The Turkish government has been attempting to veto civil society organisations affiliated with the Gülen movement at the annual meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which will be held in September, according to a report by American journal Foreign Policy.
Each September, civil society organizations from OSCE member states meet with government representatives for Europe’s largest human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. For many civil society organizations, the event is the lone opportunity they have to address government representatives.
“But if Turkey gets its way, those civil society organisations won’t include NGOs affiliated with Gülen movement… The Turkish government’s demand for a veto over civil society organizations’ participation has some worried that Ankara will weaken a critical event in the human rights community — and set an example for other countries in the process,” the report said.
Last September, the Turkish delegation stormed out after an opening speech to oppose participation of the Gulen-affiliated Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF). Earlier that year, Turkey managed to rid the JWF of its consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) over a technicality. Though the group lost its consultative status at the UN, it still came to September’s OSCE meeting.
A representative for the JWF told Foreign Policy that the organization was not given a chance to reply to claims that it is a terrorist organization. “Of course because this is an allegation without any proof and a groundless claim,” the representative said.
According to the report, in the fall of 2017, the Turkish government, which can block the dates and agenda of the Human Dimension Meeting, attempted to establish a veto over which civil society organizations could join the event. A working group that was set up last fall to deal with the issue is expected to meet Friday.
“In January, US Senators Roger Wicker and Ben Cardin wrote to Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell expressing concerns about countries calling for a ‘vetting’ mechanism for civil society organizations, specifically citing Turkey,” according to Foreign Policy.
“Turkey’s attempt to limit civil society participation at the OSCE rejects its commitment to promote freedom as a NATO ally. The State Department is right to join the Commission in opposition to these actions,” Wicker wrote in a comment to Foreign Policy.
According to the report, there may not be an easy solution, however. “Everything is based on consensus decisions made by the participating states,” a spokesperson for the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said.
“Beyond the September meeting, some NGOs and government officials alike are concerned that Turkey might inspire other countries, Kyrgyzstan or Azerbaijan, for example, to take similar measures to keep civil society organizations away from the table,” Foreign Policy reported.
“But there are also concerns that this is part of a larger pattern of Turkish behavior on the international stage,” Foreign Policy wrote and added that “Turkish civil society groups have been a frequent government target.”
“They aren’t worried about attracting negative attention. If anything, they like it. It shows they’re proactive,” David Phillips, the director of the program on peace-building and rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, told the journal. “This is all part of an effort by Erdoğan to show voters he’s not allowing foreigners to interfere in Turkey’s domestic affairs.”
And though the current Turkish initiative is focused on Gülen-affiliated groups, Phillips believes it’s part of a broader effort, at home and abroad, to go after civil society. “I would suspect that their efforts are not restricted only to Gülen-related groups. Once you start restricting civil liberties, why stop with the Gülen groups?”
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 President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Fethullah 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. 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.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.