HRW calls on May to speak out on human rights during Erdoğan’s visit

David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), has called on Prime Minister Theresa May to use the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to London next week to persuade Erdoğan to end a brutal crackdown on opponents and critics.

In an article on the HRW website, Mepham said that “Despite the sharp deterioration in human rights under his leadership, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is being accorded a state visit to Britain next week, including a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and with the Queen. Undoubtedly, May would prefer the discussion focus on investment, trade, and Syria, but the scale of repression underway in Turkey makes it impossible to ignore. She should use the moment to urge an end to the Turkish government’s brutal crackdown on opponents and critics.”

English PEN and other press freedom organizations have invited the public to join the “Free Turkey Media” protest to be held on May 15 outside Downing Street in London, where Erdoğan will be meeting with May.

Recalling that “the visit comes ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24 in which Erdoğan seeks to renew his mandate with greatly enhanced powers” and “the elections themselves won’t be credible the UN’s human rights chief has said, unless the 22 month state of emergency is lifted,” Mepham said:

“Media freedom is being decimated: Journalists and critics on social media are being prosecuted and more than 170 reporters, writers, and media workers are in jail, most of them awaiting verdicts. The crackdown, along with takeovers and closures of media outlets, means that most of the media – especially television – is now a propaganda machine for Erdoğan’s ruling AKP party and the government.”

HRW’s UK director also underlined that opposition parties face big obstacles in contesting the election, disadvantaged in their election campaigning: “The country’s second opposition party in parliament, the left-leaning, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been hardest hit. Nine of its parliamentarians are in prison and eleven have been stripped of their parliamentary seats in politically motivated cases. An MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was convicted and jailed in February in a politically motivated case. The former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş is standing as a presidential candidate from his prison cell.”

“Civil society and human rights defenders face enormous pressure with countless more “terrorism” trials and convictions, defenders like Amnesty International Turkey’s chair Taner Kılıç behind bars already for nearly a year, and some women’s rights associations arbitrarily closed down by the government,” added Mepham.

“It’s time for May to show some backbone and press Erdogan to end these abuses. May should call publicly for the release of all those Turkish journalists, politicians, and human rights defenders who have been unjustly imprisoned, and make clear Britain will not licence further military equipment for Turkey that might be used to violate human rights.”

Meanwhile, a motion submitted to the House of Commons has also called on the British government to raise the situation of democratic rights and freedoms and the rule of law in Turkey as a matter of urgency during Erdoğan’s visit to UK.

The motion signed by the nine members of the House of Commons expressed concerns regarding the upcoming elections in Turkey on June 24, as the state of emergency continues to be in place.

“UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently stated that it is difficult to imagine how credible elections can be held in an environment where dissenting views and challenges to the ruling party are penalised so severely and that elections held in an environment where democratic freedoms and the rule of law are compromised would raise questions about their legitimacy,” said the motion.

The motion also encouraged the “government of Turkey to restore the constitutional order, respect fundamental freedoms, ensure international election monitors observe the elections and allow all politicians standing for election to campaign freely and receive comparable mainstream media coverage” and called on the British government “to raise these issues as a matter of urgency with the Turkish President during his visit.”

Erdoğan is to meet Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister May on his upcoming visit to the UK starting on May 13. Erdoğan is visiting the UK to represent his country at the annual bilateral “Tatlı Dil Forum”, a day bringing together various businessmen and politicians from both Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Turkey’s journalist and author Ece Temelkuran also requested from Queen Elizabeth II to say ‘tamam [enough]’ to Erdoğan during their meeting, in her open letter published in the Guardian on Friday.

Erdoğan made waves on Tuesday, saying “If one day our nation says enough, at that time we will stand aside.” The keyword “T A M A M” (E N O U G H) blew up on Twitter in response, and more than 2 million tweets were posted during the day.

In her open letter, Temelkuran said that “As the people of Turkey who happened to fancy democracy over authoritarianism, we decided that if we say tamam enough times, maybe he would understand and give it up. So here is my polite request. Would you mind terribly saying tamam when Mr Erdoğan comes into your presence? Since you also have a palace, your words might resonate with him more than his own people’s.”

Temelkuran stated that she thought the Queen were among the few people who would remember the 1940s and “how the political integrity of democratic nations and their ethical response to authoritarianism had once played an important role in world politics.”

“If you don’t want to take the risk of damaging your political neutrality, you can always use the word tamam when the tea is poured, and you have had enough. I think the message would be clear,” Temelkuran suggested.

The European Commission (EC) on April 17 called on the Turkish government to “lift the state of emergency without delay,” saying that widespread dismissals, arrests and detentions continue to raise serious concerns.

The Turkish government declared the state of emergency five days after a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and is preparing to extend it for a seventh time. Accusing the faith-based Gülen movement of being behind the coup attempt, President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched an all-out witch hunt targeting people allegedly linked with the movement.

Citing “the broad scale and collective nature, and the disproportionality of measures,” the EC in its “2018 Report on Turkey” said: “Since the introduction of the state of emergency, over 150 000 people were taken into custody, 78 000 were arrested and over 110 000 civil servants were dismissed whilst, according to the authorities, some 40 000 were reinstated of which some 3 600 by decree.” (SCF with

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