These are difficult times for human rights defenders around the world, and those who work to promote freedom of expression in the European neighbourhood. Whether it is the coup in Turkey, government crackdowns and conflict across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia, far-right governments in Poland and Hungary, or the rise of the populist far-right in Western-Europe, these are tough times for all those fighting for democratic values. In the face of all this, we must pull together, and stand up for democracy, tolerance, and human rights as best we can.
Since the attempted coup in Turkey in July, the international community has looked on in dismay as the Erdogan government has cracked down on the country’s democratic infrastructure. The extent of the crackdown is truly alarming, far beyond any plausible response to a security threat.
Amnesty International that since the coup the Turkish government has suspended 2,745 judges and prosecutors, with 2,277 having been detained. It has also suspended 15,200 Ministry of Education personnel, closed down 524 private schools, and shut down 20 news websites. 25 media companies have seen their licenses revoked, dozens of journalists have had their press cards taken away, and senior human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz has been detained. Overall, around 82,000 Turkish government employees have been since the coup.
Certain observers alleged that the coup attempt itself on July 15th seemed to have been staged by the government. Regardless of what really happened that night, the premeditated manner in which the Erdogan government has responded, with lists of names ready at hand of all those to detain or suspend, seems to suggest they had been waiting for the opportunity to act.
The European Union and its relations with Turkey, including long-standing accession negotiations, offered an incentive for reform in Turkey towards upholding human rights and democratic governance. Erdogan seems to be cynically using the cover of the EU’s current troubles (namely the refugee crisis and prospects of Brexit) to consolidate his rule. He seeks to turn Turkey away from the secular democracy its modern founders envisioned, and is forging instead an illiberal, authoritarian state along the lines of Putin’s Russia, with whom the Turkish leader has made amends since the crackdown began.
There is no doubt that we need a strong and united European Union in order to defend democracy and human rights in our region. The EU is now suffering overlapping crises which affect its capacity to project its influence. Given that the EU is a central promoter of democracy and human rights in the world, this is bad news.
Nevertheless, all of us who passionately stand up for human rights, dialogue, and democracy wherever we can, must feel emboldened now to make our voices heard, because those who are being silenced need us to speak out.
In my work as an MEP I have travelled to Turkey several times in the last few years, where I have met academics, artists, civil society activists and fellow parliamentarians with whom I have developed lasting friendships and contacts.
In the spirit of support and solidarity, MEPs and other Parliamentarians have began to adopt Turkish and Kurdish MPs to “sponsor” as they go through these difficult times. I have adopted the HDP’s Leyla Birlik, and will be keeping in touch with her to provide what support I can.
To lend your voice in support, sign this .
I am also working closely with the NUJ and the European and International Federations of Journalists to raise awareness of the serious infringement of media freedom and the imprisonment and threats made to journalists. The Council of Europe platform for the protection of journalism and safety of journlaists monitors the situation in Turkey, if you would like to keep track of ongoing developments.