Europe’s human rights court will slam Turkey — about time, too

After a series of hesitant moves since the declaration of the emergency rule in Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) seems to have started to come to terms with the severe breaches of law.

The ECHR evaluated the situation of two of Turkey’s most prominent left-liberal, reformist writers, Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, who have been in detention for their critical commentary.

I am told by sources that the ECHR addressed these two political prisoners’ complaints about the breach of their rights. The court on February 20 ruled that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was “guilty” of keeping both men in prison illegally.

Alpay has spent more than 18 months in prison, charged with “terrorist activity” and sentenced to “aggravated lifetime imprisonment.” Altan has been behind bars since September 2016. He was also given an “aggravated” sentence for similar charges.

Both cases symbolise the depth of the Turkish government’s hostility towards civilised dissent to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic policies.

The ECHR ruling is not yet public but it is expected to soon be announced. The only dissenting voice on the ECHR panel was that of a Turkish judge. He is serving on the panel temporarily, having been scandalously appointed to the position despite his day job as an under-secretary at the Ministry of Justice.

The ECHR ruling states what was obvious from the beginning — that there has been a severe breach of the law. The question is whether the ruling will have any effect.

In the case of Altan, the ECHR’s opinion has shamefully come too late. Ankara can claim it is null and void because Altan is no longer a detainee. Since mid-February, he has been a convict, condemned to a lifetime in prison with no chance of parole.

In the case of Alpay, however, there may be a flicker of hope. His trial continues, with the next court hearing scheduled for April 5. This means there is a chance of securing his release. That’s if quiescent international opinion and concerned friends of Turkey’s peaceful fighters for democracy and rule of law mobilise. They need to put pressure on hypocritical EU governments to seriously talk the language of law with Ankara.

Anyone with even the most minimal understanding of the rule of law is aware of the situation in Turkey. It is a grotesque parody of the trial process and it has played out over and over against hundreds of intellectuals and democratic opponents to the AKP.

Alpay’s and Altan’s cases have shown one further dismal truth about Turkey. The Turkish constitutional court can be ignored, considering its ruling in favour of Altan and Alpay was defied by the lower courts. This development is the final nail in the coffin that bears the rule of law.

Turkey is not alone in its dismal plight. Across Europe, defiant strongmen are challenging key institutions, including the ECHR and the Council of Europe. It is high time we took a stance, in support of such bodies as well as the right of people to disagree with hard-line regimes.

High time, too, to speak bluntly to Turkey’s AKP government. Appeasement only emboldens it.

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