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Theresa May to focus on trade not human rights abuses when she visits Turkey

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The Guardian newspaper claims that Theresa May is not going to focus on human rights during the visit to Turkey

 Theresa May plans to focus on trade and security cooperation in talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Saturday, amid growing concerns about the country’s human rights record.


Thousands of journalists and political critics have been jailed in a crackdown on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s opponents that intensified dramatically after an attempted coup last year.

But a Downing Street spokeswoman said the main issues on the agenda were security cooperation and trade. May and Erdoğan are expected to announce that they have established a working group to discuss the possibilities of a new bilateral trade deal after Brexit. It will be the 13th such group.


The spokeswoman said: “She thinks engagement is important. There are a range of issues [that] will likely come up in their talks. I don’t think there are any issues that the prime minister is afraid to raise.”

She said there was no plan to challenge Erdoğan about the increasingly authoritarian turn of his administration: “On the issues of freedom of the press and human rights, if they come up, she will state her view, which is unchanged. She has been clear about the importance of press freedom and human rights.”

Pressed on whether May would criticise the crackdown, a spokeswoman said: “We have already expressed our strong support for Turkey’s democracy and institutions following the coup – but we have also been clear that we urge Turkeyto ensure that their response is proportionate, justified and in line with international human rights obligations.”

More than 120,000 police, civil servants and academics were suspended or dismissed after last July’s failed coup, though thousands were later reinstated. Many media organisations were also shut down.

May will fly to Ankara from the United States, where she gave a foreign policy speech stressing the responsibility of the UK and the US to defend the values of liberty and human rights.

In a speech in Philadelphia, May said: “We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world.”

Barristers’ leaders and the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) urged the prime minister to highlight threats to the rule of law. More than 3,400 Turkish judges and prosecutors were among those dismissed in the past six months.

“While we expect you to express your condolences to the Turkish people in relation to the brutal attacks by terrorists in Turkey, we also urge you to express the opinion that the battle against terrorism in Turkey, and indeed everywhere, is most effectively conducted while fully upholding human rights, as well as the rule of law,” said an open letter signed by Kirsty Brimelow QC, chair of the BHRC, and Andrew Langdon QC, chair of the Bar in England and Wales.

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