ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Critics fear for the future of Turkey as the crackdown on accused putschists widens and looks increasingly undemocratic.
“Human rights in Turkey are in peril,” after the failed coup attempt, Amnesty International said in a statement issued on Monday.
“A backslide on human rights is the last thing Turkey needs,” said Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen. “It is more important than ever for the Turkish government to respect human rights and the rule of law in ways the coup plotters did not.”
In the immediate wake of the failed coup, Turkey began purging its armed forces, and then its judiciary bodies, and as the days unfolded, the crackdown has widened to cover much of civil society, targeting alleged supporters of Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims orchestrated the attempted coup.
Some 9,000 people have been fired, including police and government officials. Another 7,500 have been detained, including top generals who are accused of being behind the failed coup.
The Education Ministry demanded the resignation of 1,577 university deans and suspended 15,200 state education employees, announced a ministry official on Tuesday. The interior ministry fired 8,777 people. And another 257 working in the prime minister’s office and 492 from the religious affairs office were dismissed.
“The sheer number of arrests and suspensions since Friday is alarming and we are monitoring the situation very closely. The coup attempt unleashed appalling violence and those responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses must be brought to justice,” said Dalhuisen, “but cracking down on dissent and threatening to bring back the death penalty are not justice.”
The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, echoed the caution. “In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, it is particularly crucial to ensure that human rights are not squandered in the name of security and in the rush to punish those perceived to be responsible,” he said on Tuesday.
The media have also been targeted. The prime minister’s office requested the High Council for Telecommunications to block over a dozen news websites on the charge of “endangering national security or public order.”
The move was condemned by media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. “The government’s response to the abortive coup must stay within the limits of the Turkish constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.”
Despite the criticism, Ankara remains determined to respond to the attempted coup with a strong hand while claiming to be acting within the rules of law.
“We need to give the necessary answer to the provocateurs immediately,” said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Tuesday. “A wrongdoing cannot be fixed with another wrongdoing. Things will be put back on track by staying in the framework of the law. Getting revenge in a state of law is unacceptable. From now on, legal action will be taken in the harshest way against the ones acting illegally while on duty.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said several times that he is open to reinstating the death penalty in order to deal with the coup plotters.
“Leaders will have to get together and discuss it and if they accept to discuss it then I as president will approve any decision that comes out of the parliament,” Erdogan said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, adding the “Turkish people have made it clear they want death for the terrorists who plotted the coup.”
“The people now have the idea, after so many terrorist incidents, that these terrorists should be killed. That’s where they are, they don’t see any other outcome to it,” he said.
Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as a condition for membership in the European Union. Reinstating it would end Turkey’s chances of joining the EU.
Warning about Turkey’s “dire” democratic situation, Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said, “Experiencing this kind of coup situation in Turkey cannot be evaluated by looking at its outcomes. If we want to get into a forcefully and rooted faceoff with coups and coupism, we should faceoff with the conditions that created the coup. As the HDP we use this will to do what is undone.”
“A junta mechanism, a military coup mechanism has grown itself within a civil political coup mechanism,” said Yüksekdağ, speaking at a HDP parliamentary meeting. “Tearing down the coup does not mean that democracy won. In this country, there had been four coups but never could a democracy have been constructed.”
At the same time, Erdogan is perhaps stoking tensions by announcing he is still committed to redeveloping Gezi Park. "God willing, first we will build historically appropriate barracks at Taksim, whether they like it or not," he told a group of supporters outside of his home in Istanbul.
Last month he re-raised the idea of a construction project in the park. When the plan to build over one of the few green spaces in the Taksim neighbourhood of Istanbul was first floated in 2013, a small sit-in led by environmental activists quickly grew into mass protests against the government of then Prime Minister Erdogan as well as police brutality and violations of democratic rights.