EU officials issue statement of concern over Turkey's post-coup crackdown

Critics say the firing of tens of thousands of employees is only the latest, most drastic step in a longer campaign against dissent.

Umit Bektas/Reuters
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an interview at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey on July 21, 2016.

Two European Union officials warned Thursday that Turkey’s decision to declare a state of emergency had led to “unacceptable decisions on the education system, judiciary and the media” following a massive round of firings in schools and ministries as well as revocations of press credentials.

“We call on Turkish authorities to respect under any circumstances the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right of all individuals concerned to a fair trial,” EU high representative Federica Mogherini and commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement.

The three-month state of emergency, declared by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday night amid the turmoil of a failed coup attempt last Friday, will deliver exceptional new powers to the president and his cabinet. Laws drafted by Mr. Erdoğan’s cabinet and signed by him can now go into effect without parliamentary approval.

The state of emergency also gives the government the power to censor media broadcasts, CNN reports, and decreases the authorization normally needed to search citizens. The government can impose curfews and restrict gatherings both public and private.

Erdoğan has put blame for the coup attempt on the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Sunni cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, whom the president accuses of infiltrating Turkish institutions.

The coup attempt has prompted a purge of public sectors. Some 20,000 employees at the ministry of education were sacked earlier this week, and some 1,500 university deans asked to resign. More than 20,000 teachers in private schools saw their licenses revoked, 6,000 public schools have closed, and academics have been banned from leaving the country, The Telegraph reports.

Nearly 8,000 police officers have been suspended, and 6,000 members of the judiciary and military detained, according to the BBC. Human Rights Watch reports that as many as 20 news websites critical of the government have been closed down at the behest of the prime minister’s office.

The state of emergency means that, like France after the November shootings in Paris, Turkey will temporarily suspend parts of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Erdoğan’s government has defended such measures as necessary in rooting out what it calls a terrorist organization.

"This is a state of emergency imposed not on the people, but on [the state] itself," said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim after the vote. "We will, one by one, cleanse the state of [Gülen's followers] and eliminate those who are trying to harm the country."

But critics of Erdoğan’s government say the measures are part of a slide toward authoritarianism that dates back well before the coup, as The Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday:

Critics and rivals have warned for years of Erdoğan’s growing authoritarian rule. For some, the state of emergency brings Turkey one step closer to a high-profile project to change the Constitution to create an all-powerful presidential system, with Erdoğan unassailable at the top.

“No one should create an opportunity for dictatorship from a coup,” said Özgur Özel, vice president of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “With this coup, there is a struggle now against the space for independence and democracy.”

Turkish officials have sought to downplay anxieties about the emergency measures.

“I want to guarantee that fundamental rights and freedoms and normal daily life will not be affected by this,” said Numan Kurtulmus, a deputy prime minister, according to The New York Times. Another deputy prime minister, Mehmet Simsek, called it “business as usual” for most Turkish citizens. “Life of ordinary people and businesses will go unimpacted, uninterrupted.”

Erdoğan’s anti-Gülenist campaign began in earnest in 2013, following a massive corruption scandal involving key members of the president's party. Thousands of policemen, judges, and prosecutors accused of being Gülen supporters have been purged in recent years. And in late May, as the government stepped up its seizures of Gülen-linked universities, Erdoğan declared the Gülen movement a terror group.

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