‘Big shame’: Turkey’s Erdogan, European Court of Human Rights meeting under fire
Exiled Turkish journalists and athletes are blasting a major international human rights organization for visiting Turkey and meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) Robert Spano embarked on an official four-day visit to Turkey on Thursday, where he met Erdogan and other Turkish officials, before receiving an honorary degree from the University of Istanbul.
Victims of human rights violations by the Turkish government told Al Arabiya English the visit was a “slap in the face” and hypocritical.
The ECHR ranked Turkey as having the second highest number of human rights violations on its list of European countries last year, behind only Russia.
Prominent Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, wanted in his native country for speaking out against what he calls Erdogan’s “dictatorship,” told Al Arabiya English that the ECHR should be the place where people who “suffer unlawfulness” in Turkey seek their rights.
But instead, the visit by the head of ECHR “legitimizes the Turkish government’s unlawful actions at the highest level and casts a huge shadow on the impartiality of the institution he leads,” Kanter said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
Kanter also called on Spano to resign in a tweet.
The visit makes ECHR’s “hypocritical stance … crystal clear,” exiled Turkish journalist Bulent Kenes told Al Arabiya English on Monday.
Kenes, who was indicted on three life sentences plus 15 years in prison in Turkey after writing a column critical of Erdogan, said there has always been “huge suspicion” that ECHR is an accomplice to “crimes of the Erdogan regime.”
Now the visit is evidence that ECHR has lost its credibility as being a refuge for those seeking justice, he said.
“It is a big shame for the judges at the European Court of Human Rights and especially for Spano,” Kenes said.
Honorary degree from ‘tainted’ university
During his visit, Spano met Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and received an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University - an institution that both Kanter and Kenes say purged more professors than any other university in the country in the aftermath of the 2016 failed coup attempt against Erdogan.
Director of Human Rights Watch Turkey Emma Sinclair-Webb said it was “astonishing” that Spano would accept the honorary degree from a university that “summarily dismissed scores of academics... in an unlawful way.”
Astonishing to think that Robert Spano, European Court of Human Rights president @ECHR_CEDH is planning to accept an honorary doctorate in law from Istanbul Univ which summarily dismissed scores of academics - among them Mehmet Altan - in an unlawful way. Think again Judge Spano. https://t.co/vYR4vXCxNE— Emma Sinclair-Webb (@esinclairwebb) September 1, 2020
The Turkish government began a campaign of repression against its critics in journalism, academia, and the military after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
During his acceptance speech, Spano said that “those in power cannot stifle freedom of speech,” according to ECHR.
Over 6,000 academics have lost their jobs due to the Turkish government’s crackdown since 2016, according to Turkey Purge, an independent group of Turkish journalists.
ECHR’s message to Turkey
During his acceptance speech at Istanbul University, Spano mentioned the detention and conviction of Turkish former judge Alparslan Altan, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for alleged involvement in the failed coup.
In 2019, the ECHR ruled Altan’s detention was unlawful. The ruling did not change Turkey’s stance.
In a 45-minute meeting with the Turkish president during his visit, Spano spoke to Erdogan about “the importance of the rule of law and democracy and in particular,” according to the ECHR. A readout of the meeting was not released.
Exiled Turkish journalist Ahmet Donmez said he thinks Spano’s visit is an insincere attempt to convince Erdogan to be more supportive of human rights.
“There are much more effective and more ethical methods of achieving this,” Donmez told Al Arabiya English, adding that the visit “gives oxygen to Erdogan’s dark rule.”
Donmez narrowly escaped imprisonment in Turkey for his critical journalism of the country’s top leader, after Erdogan filed a case of defamation against him.
Erdogan and other Turkish officials are now using the visit as “despicable propaganda material to further legitimize their violations of human rights,” according to Imam Abdullah Antepli, a native of Turkey and former leader within the Gulen community, a religious movement that has been targeted by Erdogan.
“The ECHR president should immediately resign and the court should speed up numerous Turkish cases that are pending,” Antepli, a professor at Duke University, said.