Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for this important and timely hearing. It is a timely discussion and certainly an important and very valuable one with respect to Turkey.
The crackdown on human rights, freedoms, and liberties in Turkey under the current regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been so severe that no parallel can be found in the modern history of the Turkish republic. It even dwarfs the rights violations during the military era, when martial law and emergency rule were applied. The number of jailed people, most on dubious charges and with little or no evidence at all, in the last one and a half years shows the severity of the crackdown on rights and freedom across all segments of society in Turkey, which is a NATO ally country, a European Union candidate country, and also a full member of the Council of Europe and of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
As of today, the most recent figures documented by our centre in Sweden—the Stockholm Center for Freedom, which was set up by exiled Turkish journalists—show that we have 256 journalists and media workers behind bars as of April 11, 2018. Of those imprisoned journalists, 197 were under arrest pending trial, while 58 journalists have been convicted on abusive anti-terror laws, defamation charges, or coup plotting charges with no legal evidence at all and are serving their time. Detention warrants against 140 journalists, including me and many others, are still outstanding, in addition to the 256 who are already in jail. If the Turkish government somehow manages to get its hands on these additional 140 journalists, the numbers will be quite staggering, and more than 256.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, prosecutors, doctors, teachers, academics, police, and other civil servants since July 2016, when we saw a failed coup attempt. According to Turkish government figures that were announced yesterday, 77,081 people have been arrested since then over alleged links to the Gülen movement, a civic group inspired by the U.S.-based Turkish Muslim intellectual Fethullah Gülen, which has unquestionably borne the brunt of this crackdown since even before the failed coup attempt. Around 170,000 people have been subject to legal proceedings, which in most cases means they have been detained. A third of them were formally arrested, and others have been released pending trial and charges. It is estimated that half a million people who are either alleged to have or have real links to the Gülen movement are awaiting their turn, and the authorities are simply taking their time to reshuffle them through the criminal justice system.
The rule of law has effectively ceased to exist, and the protections of due process and a speedy and fair trial have been completely suspended. Detainees' access to a lawyer and their right to a defence have been severely restricted under the emergency rule. As of today, 1,539 Turkish lawyers have been prosecuted on criminal charges and 580 have been jailed, including over 100 who were convicted on trumped-up charges. My journalist colleagues back in Turkey are having a hard time finding and hiring lawyers to represent their cases because most lawyers don't want to end up in prison like many others, so they are not taking the cases of critical and independent opposition journalists. In some cases, we have seen lawyers charging quite a high fee and taking advantage of the situation.
Almost one-third of the judges and the prosecutors in Turkey have either been dismissed or jailed. We are talking about over 4,000 people here, and that includes two members of the Constitutional Court, and many senior members of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the top administrative court, the Council of State, in Turkey. Again, they were accused of very vaguely defined, very broad anti-terror charges, or coup-plotting charges.
One-third of all Turkish diplomats, about 500 Turkish diplomats, were also declared terrorists by the Government of Turkey overnight. Some of them are jailed, and some of them fled Turkey and are seeking asylum in other countries. Among them is the former Turkish ambassador who served in Canada, Tuncay Babali, a top-notch Turkish diplomat, whose credentials everybody recognized, as well as Gürcan Balik, an ambassador who served as a chief adviser to the former Turkish president Abdullah Gül and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He is still behind bars.
Contrary to the Turkish government claims of compliance with zero tolerance of torture, we have so many cases in prison and detention centres where the people and the detainees were tortured, abused, and faced abusive and ill treatment. These are well documented in many cases by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which actually issued a recent report to that effect, as well as other monitoring bodies. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other respected human rights advocacy groups also documented these cases. Unfortunately, we have been calling on the Turkish government for some time, as have many others, to release another report, done by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or CPT, of the Council of Europe. It requires that the Turkish government approve it for the findings to be released to the public. So far, the Turkish government has not done so.
Cases of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and suspicious death in detentions and prisons have been on the rise in clear breach of the Turkish government's international obligations under rights conventions, and most specifically with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR. Mass numbers of civil servants, simply by government decrees, without any individual reasoning to justify their dismissal, and certainly without any administrative or judicial investigation, were dismissed from their jobs. This again contradicts the convention that Turkey signed with the International Labour Organization.
Freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to free enterprise, as well as other rights have also been under crackdown in Turkey. Using the failed coup as a pretext, the Turkish government shut down 19 unions, almost 1,500 associations and foundations, over 1,000 schools, education, and tutoring centres, 35 hospitals, and 15 universities on alleged links to the Gülen movement. Their assets were seized and transferred to the government. Most of the nation’s best-performing science schools, which won so many awards in the international science Olympiad competitions, were also seized. They were transferred to different NGOs, Islamist NGOs, or they were turned into religious public schools, which are a breeding ground for a young Islamist generation that will keep supporting the current Islamist Justice and Development Party in Turkey.
The crackdown also includes the opposition lawyers. There are so many behind bars, especially from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, as well as one from the main opposition Republican People's Party. He is a former journalist, Enis Berberoglu, who is behind bars on completely trumped-up charges.
The question is why the Erdogan government has rolled back the accomplishments that we as the Turkish people have fought so hard to achieve over the decades. What is the objective of this crackdown? When will it end?
I think the answer lies within the caliphate-like vision of the Erdogan government, which wants to create a new Turkey in the image of the president himself, which is not a pretty picture at all. It is based on a dangerous mixture of nationalist euphoria and religious zealotry, which often manifests itself as a xenophobic and anti-western narrative, which we often hear from President Erdogan personally and many other senior officials of the Turkish government. Those who do not toe the line or stick to the official narrative of the Turkish government are branded as terrorists, traitors, and unpatriotic people, and in many cases they face criminal investigations on trumped-up charges.
I think with these mass purges, Erdogan has created a huge vacuum in the Turkish state institutions to fill with the new guys coming from Islamist backgrounds, or now nationalist backgrounds, not based on merit or qualifications but rather based on how they're committed to the ideological zealotry that was propagated by the government. The newly hired government employees did not even go through required training at all to be able to qualify, a pattern that spells troubles, especially for critical state institutions such as police forces, judiciary, foreign service, intelligence, and military. In many cases we have seen the lawyers, actually, who were working for the ruling party, for Erdogan's party, turned into judges and prosecutors in a very short period of time. You can imagine what kinds of judgments they will be rendering in the future because they started with the political party in different posts before.
It is clear that the Erdogan government could not achieve this major transformation in Turkey if it played according to established rules and procedures in compliance with either the Turkish Constitution or the international conventions of which Turkey is a party. Human rights violations are also part of a systematic and deliberate policy of the Turkish government to intimidate critics, opponents, and others, independent people. It is part of the breaking down of the resistance against this dangerous transformation that we see in our NATO-allied Turkey.
The publication of the photos, for example, right after the failed coup attempt clearly showed that all the detainees had been beaten, some of them very senior generals, and the state news agency was publishing these pictures to send a chilling message across the board to intimidate other people who might try to challenge the government, either with their writings or with their speeches.