Turkey’s Erdoğan is on a rampage against rights and democracy, says Human Rights Watch

Turkish President and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a political meeting of his ruling party AKP, in Ankara, March 24, 2021. - (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is escalating its assaults on critics, parliamentary democracy and women’s rights, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement published today.

The rights watchdog said the Turkish government has dismantled human rights protections and democratic norms on an unprecedented scale in the last 18 years that Erdoğan had been in office.

“President Erdoğan is targeting any institution or part of society that stands in the way of his wide-ranging effort to reshape Turkey’s society,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW. “The latest developments against parliamentary opposition, the Kurds, and women are all about ensuring the president’s hold on power in violation of human rights and democratic safeguards.”

Over the past week the Turkish government made moves that targeted parts of the population that are already vulnerable, such as women, Kurds and LGBT+ people, said the statement.

Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, on March 19 with a presidential decree. The move came two days after the chief prosecutor of Turkey’s top court of appeals announced that he was opening a case to close down the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

According to the statement, by withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention not only did Erdoğan undermine women’s rights but also fueled homophobic political discourse.

The convention was criticized by some pro-government, conservative journalists and top government officials for promoting homosexuality in society and encouraging women to leave their husbands.

They argued that the concept of gender, which is used the convention, holds that the identities and the biological sexes of men and women are constructed by the society, envisions a fight against it and does not accept the distinction of the sexes.

The statement said Erdoğan aimed to receive support from religious conservative circles outside his party by withdrawing from the convention.

The president’s communications chief, Fahrettin Altun, issued a statement on March 21 saying that the treaty had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.”

The move by the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals on March 17 to close down the HDP, the second-largest opposition party in parliament, came shortly after parliament expelled HDP deputy and prominent human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu on the pretext of his conviction for a social media posting. According to HRW, Gergerlioğlu’s expulsion was a reprisal for his consistent focus on the thousands of victims of Erdoğan’s human rights crackdown, while the effort to close the HDP targets the rights of millions of Kurdish voters and subverts the principle of parliamentary democracy.

Over the past 30 years, Turkey has closed down five pro-Kurdish political parties. As in earlier cases, the chief prosecutor’s indictment accuses the HDP of acting “against the indivisible integrity of the state with its country and nation” (separatism) and violating the constitution and laws, necessitating its full and permanent closure.

“Initiating a case to close down a political party that won 11.7 percent of the vote nationally in the 2018 general election and has 55 elected members of parliament is a major assault on the rights to political association and expression,” said HRW’s Roth. “The move could deny close to six million voters their chosen representatives in violation of their right to vote.”

In a separate statement Amnesty International called on Turkish authorities to ensure the safety of the LGBT+ community instead of attacking them. “The spurious and dangerous rationale put forward by the Turkish authorities for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention by attempting to connect this appalling decision with LGBT+ community adds insult to injury,” it said.

Women’s rights activists have staged nation-wide demonstrations and declared that the women’s movement in Turkey will continue the struggle and demand government action to combat the entrenched problem of domestic violence and femicide.

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