Democracy at risk in Turkey
UNI Global Union Deputy General Secretary, Christy Hoffman joined last week’s mission of the ITUC and ETUC to meet with unions, political parties, and civil society in Turkey.
The mission aimed to get first hand insight into conditions in Turkey and allow the unions to express their concern about ongoing state of emergency which has been used as a pretext to attack political opposition and strip away democratic rights. Since the failed coup in July, 2016, the government has implemented successive State of Emergency decrees which allow the government to suspend the normal rule of law.
All affiliated Confederations agreed to the joint statement calling for an end to the State of Emergency and a return to the rule of law. Please see attached statement.
As Hoffman said, “Clearly these Decrees are being used to stifle dissent and far exceed what is necessary for the security of the country. Everyone can see that the only way forward is to join together and demand that the rule of law be restored. Those dismissed should be reinstated and afforded due process, those in jail should be charged, if there is evidence, and given a trial. These are the basic elements of democracy.”
Under the various “decrees” the government has dismissed about 110,000 workers, most of whom are civil servants, but many of them academics, journalists, trade unionists, or political opponents.
The dismissed workers have no right of appeal and are blacklisted from other jobs, and have their passports removed. They are not informed of any basis for the dismissal, but are merely informed via the publication of their name on a list. As Luca Visentini, the General Secretary of the ETUC, described it, “This is a humanitarian crisis.”
Many thousands more have been suspended. According to one source, approximately 50,000 people have been detained, most without charge, since July.
Fear is pervasive. Although some believed that the initial dismissals were aimed only at the so-called “Gulenists” who were linked to the coup, it has become clear that the Decrees are aimed at limiting dissent of any kind and are casting a net which is far wider than necessary for security purposes. Moreover, as explained by the President of the Turkish Bar Association, there has been no effort to distinguish between sympathizers, leaders and those directly involved with the coup. There is no due process whatsoever. The objective has clearly become to spread fear across the society.
UNI’s affiliate, HABER-SEN, represents workers in the media sector. A large number of its members have been dismissed, including union leadership, and many more suspended. Some leaders are in jail. HABER-SEN belongs to the KESK confederation which has been a particular target of dismissals and arrests owing to its support for peace in the Kurdish area. 3500 of its members have been dismissed.
While the delegation was in Turkey, a report was released which documents the scope of the attacks against free press. One hundred fifty- five journalists are currently in jail, 160 media outlets have been shut down since July, and about 2000 media workers have lost their employment as a result. The group met with one journalist who have been sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for his article criticizing the government. The case is on appeal.
Opposition parties CHP and HDP both welcomed the delegation, arguing that Turkey needs more attention from outside civil society organisations. They urged us to continue to send visitors to meet with their counterparts in Turkey, including professional organisations, and that the signs of solidarity are increasing welcomed in a country where those in dissent feel marginalized and isolated. Both parties strongly believe that the vote tally for the recent referendum on a Constitutional amendment was compromised and that a majority of Turkish people voted NO.