Is Erdoğan’s human rights plan meant to lure EU, US?

Erdoğan (L) and MHP leader Bahçeli greet each other at the start of a ceremony to launch Human Rights Action Plan of the government. The MHP insists the HDP should immediately be closed. (Photo: Turkish Presidency)

The Human Rights Action Plan of the Turkish government would be meaningful if President Tayyip Erdoğan had presented it as an administrative reform in the judiciary. Actually, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül explained the real target of the package, announced on March 2, by saying that “The most important thing for me is secure judiciary” Whether it can be achieved or not is a subject of another discussion. But if Erdogan had declared these regulations as the “Judicial Administrative Reform Package”, they would not have attracted much attention. This is not because such amendments are required but because its Western allies are expecting Turkey to increase the level of human rights and democracy in quality. Thus, the principles already in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights were transformed into “11 principles”, as if they were said by Erdoğan for the first time, and this so-called Human Rights Action Plan emerged. I name it “so-called” because the plan was originally prepared for a different purpose and basically it was shaped this way to serve foreign because it was put into this form with the needs of foreign policy.

Religious minority rights discourse

There are other indicators that legitimize the question of whether the so-called action plan was drafted to meet the U.S. and EU expectations from the Erdoğan administration to raise the quality of human rights and democracy in the country. Why do you think the religious rights of minorities were specifically mentioned as if they were separate from human and citizenship rights? The plan pledges to finalize the regulations for the Community Foundations of the minorities that started 9 years ago. So it sounds as if Erdoğan will open the Halki Seminary on Heybeliada regardless of the opening of a mosque in Athens!
So does the government really expect the Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities in Turkey to tell the lobbies in the U.S. and the EU to “hold on because Turkey will expand our rights?” Would Joe Bide, the European Commission, or the EU strongholds such as Germany and France pretend that they bought this plan? I would not ignore this possibility, because unfortunately, there are few subjects used for military and interests as much as human rights.

But the statements made on behalf of the Community Foundations and the Jewish Community were not content so they applauded that plan but included in their statements the cautious remark that “the rapid implementation of the plan will be an opportunity for our country.”

What an indicator of loss of confidence.

So-called freedom of expression

The plan says the expression of thought will no longer be an excuse for arrest. But wasn’t it the case already, if the government and the judiciary fully abided by the Constitution in force? Charges brought against writers, journalists, politicians and rights defenders are not on about are what they wrote and said. The lawsuits against them are usually launched on grounds of “terrorism,” “espionage” or “coup attempt” charges, with judicial tricks that remind one of some Arab or Central Asian countries.

The initial reaction to the plan by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker and rights activist Sezgin Tanrıkulu was to ask whether activist Osman Kavala and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş would be released from prison. The human rights organizations, or figures known as international authorities in the field of human rights law –a well-deserved title for them– were not invited to the “publicity” ceremony of the plan that they criticize. Meanwhile, the representatives of the pro-government media, state-run Anadolu Agency and lawyers and NGOs that praise the government were present at the ceremony at the presidential palace.

Turkish Bar Associations chair Metin Feyzioğlu, an opponent-turned-loyal ally of the government, is among those who lead the choir of applauding the package.

In the meantime, efforts to shut down a party

On the day Erdoğan pledged to expand rights, his election ally Devlet Bahçeli, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party, was saying that the HDP should immediately be shut down. “Even if they shut our party down, we will be a government partner in Turkey soon or later,” responded HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar.

But remarks by Cahit Özkan, the deputy chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party group in parliament, is even more interesting. Özkan advocated lifting the political immunity of nine HDP deputies, arguing that the HDP would be “terminated legally after it is politically terminated”.

Does this mean criminalizing the HDP lawmakers by lifting their parliamentary immunity but without reaching a number that would require a snap election to replace them, and thus making the HDP dysfunctional? The number of the HDP seats in parliament is still above the number of seats held by the MHP, whose frustration about the matter is not a secret.

It seems that both CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Good (İYİ) Party leader Meral Akşener will not bow to the pressure by the ruling alliance that names them “terrorists” for “backing the terrorists,” namely, the HDP lawmakers.

But the tensions in politics have reached a level that one can “never say never.” So we have to wait and see what is next.


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