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Turkey suffering ‘rights rollback’ under Erdogan: HRW

HRW accused the government in the last nine months of seeking to curb the independence of the judiciary and weaken the rule of law

Published: Updated:

Turkey is undergoing a “worrying rollback” on human rights under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with curbs on judicial independence and media freedom, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

Erdogan won the presidential election in August after over a decade as prime minister, despite a turbulent year that saw unprecedented protests and corruption allegations against his inner circle.

HRW accused the government in the last nine months of seeking to curb the independence of the judiciary and weaken the rule of law in a bid to halt the corruption probe.

“Turkey is undergoing a worrying rollback of human rights,” HRW said in its report on Turkey, accusing the government of “increasing intolerance of political opposition, public protest and critical media.”

The authorities have gone on the offensive against opponents after the corruption allegations, blaming them on Erdogan’s former ally turned foe, the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan has also shown no mood for compromise following the protests last year sparked by plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul.

“The government feels no hesitancy to intervene in the criminal justice system when its interests are threatened,” said HRW, pointing to the replacement of thousands of employees in the security forces and legal system who were not deemed loyal enough.

“Turkey is unlikely to succeed in moving closer to Europe unless Turkey’s leaders take steps to reverse the rollback on rights and strengthen the rule of law,” HRW’s Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

The New York-based rights group said there had been “near impunity” for police violence in the 2013 protests, with the jailing this month for almost eight years of a policeman who killed a protester in Ankara a “rare moment of accountability.”

Meanwhile, at least 5,500 people have been put on trial across the country for their involvement in the protests.

HRW expressed alarm at an April 2014 law that grants immunity to personnel of the MIT secret service unless the organization gives express permission for it to be removed.

There has also been impunity for past abuses by the authorities, notably the lack of prosecutions over a December 2011 air strike that killed 34 cigarette smugglers who were wrongly suspected of being Kurdish militants.

And investigations into a wave of killings and disappearances of Kurds that took place from 1993-1995 will shortly fall under a 20-year statute of limitations.

Under Erdogan’s rule, large parts of the media, and in particular television, follow a pro-government line and do nothing to challenge it, HRW said.

“The space for independent, nonaligned and critical journalism in Turkey has shrunk,” HRW said, pointing to the case of two journalists for the Taraf daily prosecuted for leaking details of a secret meeting in a November 13 report.

While Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won successive elections with large majorities, the authorities “appear to take the view that majoritarian power takes precedence over the rule of law,” it said.