2017: never again, says CHP deputy

"We never want to live through another year like 2017,” opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Şenal Sarıhan said.

Sarıhan, also the chairman of the parliamentary human rights commission, has continuously spoken out against what she states are severe human rights violations, often legitimised by state of emergency decrees with the power of law (KHKs). She recently met with Ahval to discuss the situation, which is the topic of her new book.

“Of course, the government are using the state of emergency (OHAL) as an opportunity to empower themselves further,” Sarıhan said. “The ruling party uses the KHKs to accuse anyone they see as a threat or who is a member of the opposition as having allegiance to, or being a member of, ‘FETÖ’.”

FETÖ is the government’s name for the Fethullah Gülen movement, a religious group that follows a preacher-in-exile in the United States and which the government sees as having been behind the 2016 failed coup attempt.

“The ruling party and President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan, are also using the OHAL to solve all their problems. They want to create a ‘rose garden with no thorns’,” she said.

“The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a majority in parliament. They do not have to have the OHAL or issue any decrees, as they can pass any law they want in government.”

However, Sarıhan said, by abusing state of emergency legislation the government are able to bypass parliamentary debate altogether.

“But they don’t want any discussion of their bills, and they don’t want the public to know, so Erdoğan, the AKP leader, declares a KHK, and passes it down to his cabinet to be made official,” he said.

“The AKP doesn’t want to take parliament into consideration. They want to unilaterally make laws with no input from anyone questioning the KHKs or the OHAL.”

The turning point was a referendum on constitutional changes to make Turkey into a strong presidential system, Sarıhan said.

“As it is, after the April 17 referendum, a single person regime was de facto established,” she said. “The constitution requires that these new laws are brought to parliament within 30 days and either passed into law or abolished. To date, only five KHK laws have been brought to parliament.”

Sarıhan questioned the validity of the continuation of the state of emergency now that the attempted coup had been defeated.

“When a country is under the threat of a coup, the government can put in place a state of emergency, or declare martial law. But if the coup is discovered and stopped, there is no reason for either of these to be implemented,” she said.

“Currently, what we have in place is not a state of emergency, but actually martial law in disguise.”

The government were seeking to “fill in the gaps” and complete this martial law, Sarıhan said, and the latest of these was the insistence that terror and coup suspects wear Guantanamo-style single-colour jumpsuits in court.

“If you push the imprisonment issue at the heart of this country too far and you start a fire there, the whole country will roast,” she said.

Plus, Sarıhan said, the KHKs were being used to punish people who spoke out against the government.

“Many are being charged as ‘being a member or supporting a terror group,’ despite their only crime being to oppose the government and speak out against grave abuses of people and their rights,” she said.

“This is a typical example,” Sarıhan said, pointing to the photo on the cover of her book. “That this human rights statue has been behind barriers for months describes Turkey perfectly. How do you barricade a human rights statue from the public for months on end?”

Human Rights Statue
The human rights statue in Yüksel Caddesi, Ankara