Turkey Eases Some Emergency Measures

Turkish authorities have relatively eased some of the measures under the state of emergency, and established a commission to oversee implementation of decrees in line with emergency rule laws, but kept most of the practices in place.

With 4 new emergency decrees signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the government moved to set up Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission to examine whether emergency practices had been carried out within the scope of law. The commission is also tasked with investigating applications by victims of purges.

Critics, however, quickly dismissed the commission, branding the watchdog as a move to prevent people from applying to the European Court of Human Rights. Citizens need to exhaust all domestic judicial instances before applying the European court.

The commission will consist of 7 jurists, most of whom will be appointed by the government.

According to the latest decrees, 367 more public servants have been dismissed, while 124 officials were restored to their posts. The dismissed officials will be ejected from public housing apartments, will not be able to work in any public institution any more. Their passports were also revoked. 2 more TV stations are closed, and all their property and equipment were confiscated by the state.

1 from the Saving Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), 2 from Turkey’s banking watchdog BDDK, 1 from Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), 1 from Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, 10 from General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre, 134 from the General Directorate of Immigration, 186 from Ministry of Health and many others from a dozens of government agencies are among those dismissed by the decrees.

73 public servants in Directorate of Religious Affairs, and 2 in state-run TRT channel, 1 in Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, 8 in General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre, 8 in Interior Ministry and dozens of others in various departments were restored to their posts.

The most high-profile dismissal was from the TMSF, which oversees company seizures. Its deputy head Sukru Kanberoglu was fired with the latest decrees.

The government also shortened pre-trial detention period from 30 days to 7 for detainees who are tried over non-terrorism charges and petty crimes. Prosecutors, however, can ask to extend the detention period for another week. Those who face terrorism-related charges will not able to benefit from the new practice. Given that majority of more than 100,000 people who were detained in the aftermath of the failed coup were actually held in custody over coup and terrorism charges, the decree does no good to them. Carefully scripted decree’s language seems to be designed to win accolades from Western observers and diplomats, but in reality shortening period spares tens of thousands of people detained in the post-coup era.

Meanwhile, Turkish prosecutors also issued an arrest warrant for more than 400 people across Turkey, including soldiers and the police, for using ByLock, a smartphone app that the government says was overwhelmingly used by supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. 

The latest move was long in the making at least to ward off criticism and a potential action by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which voted whether to hold an urgent debate session on latest developments in Turkey in an upcoming convention on Jan. 26.

After intense diplomatic efforts from Turkey, PACE rejected an urgent session on Turkey at a meeting on Sunday in Strasbourg, France. A number of key international rights groups, including Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch and PEN International penned down a letter to PACE to bring its “immediate attention to the serious deterioration of human rights in Turkey” in its upcoming meeting, to no avail.

Ankara’s diplomatic maneuverings and new decrees came after PACE degraded Turkey’s status and opened monitoring status, a practice that was in place from 1996 to 2004 to oversee Turkey’s progress in human rights, freedoms, rule of law and democracy. In that regard, PACE issued reports, warnings and recommendations to encourage Turkish reforms in line with its EU membership goal.

Ingebjorg Godskesen (Norway, EC) and Marianne Mikko (Estonia, SOC), co-rapporteurs of PACE, visited Turkey between Jan. 9 and Jan. 13 on a fact-finding mission. They will present a detailed report to PACE convention this spring, but a summary of their report appeared on PACE website, reflecting on how Turkey faced setbacks in terms of liberties and democracy.

They called on Turkey to “ensure that the revised constitution complies with Council standards,” as Parliament passed a constitutional reform bill that envisages expanding powers of Mr. Erdogan, paving the way for a transition to an executive presidency. The bill will be voted in national referendum this spring amid genuine fears that separation of powers, the rule of law and checks and balances will disappear.

Turkey has mostly appeared unfazed and indifferent in the face of international criticism regarding the erosion of the rule of law during the emergency rule. More than 136,000 public workers have been purged, while 43,000 people have been jailed pending trial over coup charges. The sweeping purge campaign targeted every department of bureaucracy, leaving security apparatus, the military and the police fractured and crippled after removal of thousands of experienced officials.

The government claims that it is fighting against followers of a U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of masterminding the coup plot on July 15 against Mr. Erdogan. Mr. Gulen denies the allegations.

One of the emergency measures allows companies and some public institutions to pay back their debt in foreign currency to the state with Jan. 2 exchange rate, which was 3.53 lira against a dollar.