The international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday that Turkey has seen a very real erosion of human rights and the rule of law over the past two years as President-elect and incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has consolidated power.
“If the days of military tutelage in Turkey are thankfully over, that doesn’t yet mean that Turkey has a government that is fully accountable to the people or a justice system that is independent and can guarantee that the law applies to everyone,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, a senior researcher on Turkey from HRW said in a written statement.
Sinclair-Webb said that since a corruption scandal broke out in Turkey in December 2013, Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have sought to change laws to suit their own agenda and muzzle social media.
“They have interfered repeatedly in the corruption investigation, reorganized entire parts of the criminal justice system, and in the process pursued a politically polarizing discourse rounding on opponents and critics. All of that came on the heels of Erdogan’s demonization of the Gezi protestors last year and repeated expressions of support for violent police tactics and a clampdown on demonstrations,” she said.
Erdoğan won the Aug. 10 presidential election, garnering 51.8 percent of the popular vote, and delivered a message of reconciliation in his victory speech. “I will not be the president of only those who voted for me, I will be the president of 77 million,” Erdoğan said.
“Will that include people who criticize him on Twitter? His rivals in government? If Turkey is to embrace its place as a democratic country where everyone’s human rights count, it is essential that all political players, including the new president, take urgent steps to address the rights crisis,” Sinclair added.
With regard to Turkey’s decades-long Kurdish issue, Sinclair said: “A successful Kurdish peace process in the absence of a democratic and rights-respecting environment for all citizens seems a contradiction in terms: a human rights and justice deficit after all lies at the heart of Turkey’s Kurdish problem.”
Erdoğan vows to fulfill his dream of what he calls a “new Turkey” while his critics say he will grow more authoritarian.
Erdoğan competed against two rivals — Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, an academic and former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) who was nominated as a candidate by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish lawmaker who was nominated by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). During his presidential campaign, İhsanoğlu focused on a message of unity. Demirtaş, on the other hand, is described as a “rising star” on the minority Kurdish population’s political scene.
Incumbent President Abdullah Gül, who was elected in 2007, will leave his post on Aug. 28.
Erdoğan’s election triumph, which has given him the power to rule Turkey for five more years, has stirred controversy within the country as well as abroad.
The secretary-general of Germany’s Christian Social Union (CSU), Andreas Scheuer, recently expressed concern about the future of freedom and democracy in Turkey under the rule of president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and said that Erdoğan’s Turkey does not belong in the European Union.
“Erdoğan’s Turkey has no place in Europe… The president will trample democratic values under [his] foot, expand his power, want to restrict freedom of [the] press and continue his inciting remarks against Israel,” the German Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung (HAZ) daily quoted Scheuer as saying.
This is not the first time Scheuer has called on the EU to halt accession talks with Turkey on the grounds that Turkey “doesn’t belong in Europe.” In April, Scheuer voiced some concerns regarding steps taken by Erdoğan, saying he was acting against European norms and democratic values. “The CSU has always spoken in a loud [and] clear way [by saying] that Turkey does not belong in the EU,” stated Scheuer, adding: “Now, we expect everyone to come to this realization… many [would] understand the fact [that Turkey doesn’t belong in the EU] if they just look at Erdoğan’s remarks and acts closely.”