ANKARA: Turkey is set to extend a state of emergency for the sixth time since it was imposed following failed 2016 coup attempt, worrying government opponents and allies who fear the special powers are thrusting Turkey toward an increasingly authoritarian direction.
The state of emergency, declared five days after the July 15, 2016 coup, has allowed a massive government crackdown aimed at suspected supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey says was behind the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.
The state of emergency has also paved the way for the arrest of other government opponents, including activists, journalists and politicians and the closure of media and non-governmental organizations over alleged links to extremist groups.
Most crucially, it has allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to rule through decrees, often bypassing Parliament which he has long accused of slowing down his government’s ability to perform.
Among the more than 30 decrees issued since the coup, some have regulated the use of winter tires, obliged detainees accused of links to extremism to wear uniforms in court and gave full-employment rights to temporary workers. One vaguely-worded decree granting legal immunity to civilians who helped thwart the coup sparked an outcry and fears that it would encourage vigilante groups.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s pro-secular main opposition party, this week accused Erdogan of taking advantage of the failed military coup to trample on democracy and lead a “civilian coup” of his own through his emergency powers.
“What have winter tires got to do with the state of emergency?” he asked.
“Through the decrees with the force of law, the government can now do whatever it pleases,” Kilicdaroglu said. “The constitution is of no importance. The government has obtained the power to carry out all unlawful arrangements.”
Turkey’s National Security Council is meeting Wednesday to recommend prolonging the state of emergency by a further three months, before the extension is due to be approved by the Council of Ministers later in the day and voted on in Parliament Thursday. Its current term expires on Jan. 19.
The government has defended its move to extend the emergency rule pointing to the severity of the coup attempt — during which rogue soldiers attacked Parliament and other state buildings leading to more than 250 deaths — and citing a continued security threat from Gulen’s network of supporters.
Erdogan has said the state of emergency will remain as long as security threats persist. Few believe that Erdogan will allow the emergency rule to end before a presidential election in 2019, when a set of constitutional amendments, narrowly approved in a referendum in April, come into effect, giving the president sweeping powers.
Observers say Erdogan is unlikely to take any step that would put a victory at the 2019 election at risk, including ending the state of emergency that has permitted authorities to ban public gatherings, which some say limited opposition parties’ ability to run effective campaigns during the referendum.
The EU, which Turkey once hoped to join, and the Council of Europe — the continent’s top human rights and democracy body — have expressed concerns over the state of emergency. The EU has called on Turkish authorities to respect the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Council of Europe last year specifically criticized decrees that dismissed elected mayors and other municipal officials in Turkey’s mainly-Kurdish southeast over terror-related charges and the reappointment of unelected officials in their place.
The rights advocacy group, Freedom House, this week reduced Turkey’s status from a “Partly Free” country to “Not Free,” citing among other things, the replacement of elected mayors, and the arrests and purges of public sector workers for alleged links to Gulen. The group said the moves had left “citizens hesitant to express their views on sensitive topics.”
Under the state of emergency, Turkey has arrested around 50,000 people and purged 110,000 civil servants in a crackdown aimed at cleansing the state of Gulen’s followers.