German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believes Turkey is at a “crossroads.” “Which direction will the country go?” he asked the German parliament last week. “Towards a firm democracy with a respected parliamentary opposition, or away from this approach?”
Steinmeier will be able to gauge Turkey’s direction first-hand on Tuesday when he visits the country for the first time since the failed coup in July. Based on the list of concerns he raised in parliament, including “the wave of sackings, arrests and (other) repressive measures.” he’ll have plenty to talk about.
Going well beyond legitimate efforts to bring coup perpetrators to justice, Turkey has detained, dismissed, or suspended 110,000 soldiers, judges, teachers, journalists, and others in the aftermath of a failed coup in July. Turkish police have tortured and abused individuals in custody after emergency decrees removed crucial human rights safeguards. In the same period, more than 160 media outlets have been closed down by decree and 112 journalists jailed pending trial. This month, in the latest escalation, leaders and MPs of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were imprisoned too.
Germany is offering support to journalists, academics, and others in civil society under attack. It has also repeatedly condemned the coup attempt while being increasingly critical of Turkey’s recent crackdown. “We have to ask ourselves whether what we have been seeing, whether the groups who have been rounded up, are really connected to the coup attempt?” Steinmeier told parliament. “Is this approach by the Turkish government really compatible with the most basics standards for the rule of law?” he asked.
During his trip, Steinmeier should make an explicit call for a return to the rule of law by the Turkish government and insist that any plans to reintroduce the death penalty be dropped. He should make clear Germany expects the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtas, Figen Yuksekdag, and the other HDP politicians arrested and jailed in pretrial detention and the many journalists in prison.
It is important he speaks out against the latest scandalous indictment of journalists and writers who wrote for Ozgur Gundem newspaper, accusing them of separatism for which they could receive life sentences without parole. And he should urge the government to uphold safeguards against torture and fully investigate allegations of abuse and torture in detention.
Finally, Steinmeier told parliament that international bodies of which Turkey is a member need to address these abuses too, such as the Council of Europe. Berlin urgently needs to show leadership to ensure this happens. And it should do the same in other fora like the UN Human Rights Council as well as in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) where Germany is currently chairman. Steinmeier will chair a meeting in Hamburg on 8-9 December of the 57 foreign ministers from the OSCE’s participating states, and should use the meeting to call on Turkey to uphold the organisation’s human rights principles. It’s time for Turkey, with Germany’s help, to choose the right path at the crossroads in faces.