“For the fifth year in a row the rule of law has declined in most countries” is what welcomes you to the website of the World Justice Project’s The 2022 WJP Rule of Law Index. In the current state of international affairs which includes a pandemic, a full-blown war in Europe, an energy crisis, food shortages and talks of a growing risk of a nuclear war, that may not seem the most imminent problem the international community is currently facing. It is however for the hundreds of millions of people living in countries exactly that.
Turkey has never been a country “in the green” as far as the colours of the countries in the index are concerned. Its rapid sink into the bottom of the list, which consists of 140 countries, is truly conspicuous. The index paints a true picture of Turkey, a country under the one-man rule with almost no respect for fundamental rights. A country governed by a ‘rule by law” rather than a “rule of law”. Of 140 countries listed, Turkey ranked 116th in the overall rule of law index.
One-man regime without a check-balance mechanism
Those who have known Erdogan since the days he was an aspiring young politician within the ranks of the Islamist Refah Partisi, were quite aware of his insatiable thirst for power and his despise of having to share it. His “friends in the cause’ such as Abdullah Gul and Bulent Arinc, with whom Erdogan planned and founded the AKP at the turn of the millennia have found about the true extent of it when Erdogan condemned them both to be nothing but two obsolete ex-politicians with no true power or influence over AKP’s supporters.
The failed coup attempt of July 2016 which Erdogan famously referred to as “a blessing from God” finally gave him the opportunity to change the whole system of governance in Turkey replacing the multi-party parliamentary system with a unique presidential system (AKP officials at one point used to refer to it as “Turkish-Style Presidential System”) where he sat at the top and pulled the strings. The 3 years following the coup attempt during which he ruled the country with presidential degrees gave him a taste of how he would like Turkey, a bed of roses with no one to challenge his personal or political ambitions.
The presidential system which Erdogan skilfully crafted includes 9 separate advisory councils, members of which Erdogan may freely choose. They mirror the office of each and every cabinet minister. Although by law they are purely advisory in nature, they in practice act as shadow ministries the advice of which is implemented without question. It could safely be suggested that now Turkey is effectively being governed by a strong man and his unelected secretaries.
On the other hand, Erdogan has devised his unique presidential decree in such a way that he now enjoys direct control over the religious, military and intelligence affairs of the country. The Directorate of Religious Affairs, The General Staff of the Armed Forces and MIT are directly answerable to him.
According to a report by a German think-tank SWP, the legislative monopoly of the Turkish parliament has gradually been hollowed out by the excessive use of presidential decrees. This trend began in summer of 2016 with emergency decrees under the state of emergency and continued with executive presidential decrees. Likewise, the Turkish parliament’s budgetary rights have been diminished into symbolic rubber stamping.
As regards external audit, which the WJP looks at when evaluating a particular country, certain public bodies are exempted from the Turkish Court of Account’s jurisdiction, thus, from parliamentary and public scrutiny. Likewise, the vast majority of public companies and the Turkish State Wealth Fund, the portfolio of which includes 20 public enterprises; are out of the jurisdiction of the Turkish Court of Account. Hence, Turkey ranked 137th out of 140 countries in terms of being subject to independent auditing and review.
Independent media has been demolished
The conduct and decisions of the Erdogan administration are beyond any private monitoring and reporting. There are only a handful of media outlets and NGOs which are not directly controlled by him. Yet, they have to work under self-censoring and should not forget their limits, as they are allowed to work just to let Erdogan pretend a democratic leader. The rest act as his mouthpieces or disinformation centres which do his bidding. Turkey therefore ranks 136th in terms of being subject to non-governmental checks.
As a result, Turkey ranked 135th out of 140 countries in terms of constraints on government powers.
Fundamental rights have constantly been breached
Where a government frees itself from scrutiny and public and private checks and reviews, fundamental rights tend to be the first casualty. In 2010, Erdogan with the influence of his domestic allies, whom he since replaced with ultranationalist and radical Islamists, made significant amendments to the constitution to make it more in line with the principles of the EU to which Turkey then was aspiring to full membership. The improvements in Turkey’s respect for fundamental rights were consequently reflected in WJP’s 2012 index where Turkey scored 0.49 out of 1.00. Fast forward 10 years and now the score is a mere 0.30 which means Turkey now is fourth from the bottom, in the same league with the likes of China, Iran and Egypt. Turkey now ranks 134th out of 140 in terms of respect for fundamental rights. This is a tragic slide for those in Turkey who are having to suffer the consequences.
In Turkey where President Erdogan sacked some 4500 judges and prosecutors and effectively selected all members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, there is no way the criminal justice system is impartial and independent. Turkey consequently ranked 125th and 137th in terms of impartiality and independence of the criminal justice system.
One of the criteria of the index is whether the police inflict physical harm upon criminal suspects during arrest and interrogation and whether political dissidents or members of the media are subjected to unreasonable searches, arrest, detention, imprisonment, threats, abusive treatment, or violence. Sadly, this reads like a summary of what all those people have had to endure during Erdogan’s rule. The most recent example is the detention of Sebnem Korur Fincanci, the president of the Turkish Medical Association and an avid human rights defender who was arrested on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda. This follows the arrest of some 700 people earlier in the same week for helping the families of members of the Gulen Movement who had been imprisoned.
Erdogan is proud of not conforming to rules or principles. He built his thousand-room palace on a protected woodland which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself created in the early 1930s. When a court ordered the construction to be stopped, he famously defied the court order by saying “let them try and stop it themselves!”. His governments seem to have adopted his arbitrariness. In the wake of the failed coup attempt, tens of thousands of public employees and bureaucrats were fired from their jobs with a few emergency decree laws. The same happened to thousands of judges and public prosecutors who were dismissed and imprisoned following the coup attempt. The government did not even feel the need to follow due process when condemning them to imprisonment and destitution.
On the other hand, thousands of successful businessmen saw their companies and private assets arbitrarily taken away from them. Where the government could not directly confiscate a private company, it appointed so-called trustees to their board who instead of properly managing the company, stripped them of their most valuable assets while personally profiting from that along the way.
What is equally harrowing is Erdogan’s crackdown on criticism of the gross human rights violations. Erdogan has been abusing a law which prohibits insulting the president to prosecute anyone who dares to direct even the slightest critics at him. To date, hundreds of people, including minors, have been jailed for criticising his policies. On the other hand, Erdogan has recently approved a new law, proposed by his own party, which would criminalise the “disseminating of information which may mislead the public”. As a coalition of 22 press freedom organisations including IPI and Article 19 quite rightly put in their joint statement regarding the law “the bill provides a framework for extensive censorship of online information and the criminalisation of journalism, which will enable the government to further subdue and control public debate in the lead up to Turkey’s general elections in 2023”. Erdogan cannot afford to lose. The controversial law not only targets journalists but anybody who spreads such information on social media.
One can be sure that there will be no talk in the public sphere of police brutality against peaceful protesters, ill-treatment in police custody and torture, unless of course the government chooses to parade tortured detainees in front of the cameras just like they did after the failed coup attempt. Erdogan is bent on taking Turkey further down the Rule of Law Index.
After all, Turkey is a country where thousands of imprisoned judges have been replaced by nearly 15,000 new judges who were meticulously chosen from the ranks of Erdogan’s AKP and its ultranationalist political ally MHP. This is now a country where the chief prosecutor of the capital flies to Erdogan’s palace after his wedding to pay his respects with his bride still in her wedding dress. After years of relentless targeting of the independence of the Turkish judiciary, he is now enjoying his absolute control over it.
When going through the bottom of the index one cannot help but think about the millions of people who are having to live under the rule of such governments. What is even more distressing is that this has been going on for so long and is likely to continue for many years to come.
Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog