CoE’s head Jagland to visit Turkey over rule of law, human rights

Thorbjørn Jagland, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe

The head of the human rights watchdog Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, is going to visit Turkish capital Ankara on Feb. 15 on a two-day working visit, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

“Secretary General Jagland was the first international figure to visit our country after July 15 to show his solidarity with our government and our people,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. “The secretary general’s visit will be the third visit to our country after the coup attempt,” the statement added.

Jagland’s visit to be realised amid renewed tensions between Ankara and the EU. Jagland is hoping detained journalists will be released from jail and is meeting Turkey’s ministers of justice and foreign affairs to discuss options when it comes to the state of emergency and the freedom of expression.

“Our principle is that journalists should not be locked up merely for reporting about terrorism. Writing about terrorists doesn’t automatically make you a terrorist yourself,” Jagland’s spokesperson Daniel Holtgen, said in an email to Brussels-based online news portal EUobserver on Friday.

According to the report, Turkey’s troubled justice system will also be on the agenda. Last month, the country’s constitutional court demanded the release of two prominent columnists, Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay but later reportedly changed its position. Both are facing life sentences.

Holtgen said the constitutional court is seen as “key to implementing the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in Turkey.”

Turkey had set up a so-called OHAL commission, at the demand of the Council of Europe, to review the cases of people dismissed. The process is long. Out of the 105,000 applications submitted, some 1,562 have been reviewed. Of those, 42 were reinstated. Other people in prison include Taner Kilic, the head of Amnesty International’s Turkey office. Taner has been detained since last June on charges he is a member of a terrorist organisation.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallstrom cancelled her upcoming visit to the country in protest of Turkey’s military campaign in northern Syria. The Netherlands had also formally withdrawn its ambassador to Turkey. The Dutch row kicked off when the Netherlands barred Turkish ministers from campaigning inside the country last year.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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