Tuesday, 25 October 2016
28. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had any engagements with his Turkish counterpart or the Turkish ambassador regarding the repression of teachers and third level educators following the attempted coup in July 2016; and his views on whether the current administration is potentially in breach of human rights standards. [30280/16]
I am interested in hearing from the Minister about the extent of his engagement with the Turkish Foreign Minister and the Turkish ambassador regarding the repression of teachers and educators following the attempted coup in July this year and his views on whether the current administration is potentially or actually in breach of human rights standards.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I condemned the attempted coup in Turkey on 15 July as a criminal act and an attack on democracy. Since then, the situation in Turkey has been discussed at meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. Ministers also had an open exchange of views with Turkish Minister of European Affairs, Mr. Omer Celik at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Bratislava on 3 September, at which I stated Ireland’s concerns about the human rights situation in the post-coup environment in Turkey. Furthermore, I attended a specially convened meeting of the Council of Europe on the situation in Turkey with the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuþoðlu on 7 September, at which I again set out Ireland’s position. I reiterated that the attempted coup was an attack on democracy and that, in responding to the attempted coup, Turkey must uphold democratic norms and values.
Democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and rule of law are core European values. I expressed my concerns that some of the actions taken since the coup are contrary to democratic norms and Council of Europe standards. In particular, I expressed concern about the scale of the post-coup purge which has seen large numbers of people detained or suspended from their jobs, including teachers and academics; the arrest of journalists and the closure of media outlets. I also condemned the spate of terrorist attacks in Turkey, including those carried out by so-called Islamic State or Da'esh, the PKK or their affiliates in Turkey.
Ireland supports a stable and democratic Turkey. We understand the depth of feeling that this attack on the core of democracy in Turkey has provoked. However, it is critical that legal due process is a cornerstone of the Turkish authorities’ response and in that context the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial is essential.
I note that the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils MiuŽnieks, has acknowledged that the Turkish authorities needed to act quickly to dispel the threat posed by the attempted coup. The Commissioner, who visited Turkey at the end of September, also stresses the urgency of reverting to normal safeguards and procedures. I fully agree that the response to the aftermath of the coup must be proportionate and measured.
Regardless of the motivations of the coup, it was an attack on democracy in Turkey. The aftermath was anything but democratic. The words "purge" and "cull" have been used. It was a purge and a cull of civil society and the public sector, particularly educators, judges, journalists and academics, all under the umbrella of national security, which is reminiscent of what we are being told here in relation to other issues. Last week, the Minister outlined to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence the various meetings he had attended. He also said that what is happening is exacerbating citizens' democratic freedoms and human rights. The EU has pledged support for Turkey's democratic rights but where is Turkey's respect for the democratic rights of its citizens? Thousands of teachers have been suspended or dismissed. In September, 11,500 teachers were suspended or dismissed because they were suspected of links with the Kurdish Workers' Party. The implication of this for students comes to mind. I do not think the EU is being strong enough in terms of respect for democracy. I wonder if it is because we are so reliant on Turkey in terms of refugees that we do not want to rock that boat too much.
I attended the specially convened meeting of the Council of Europe in September, at which I acknowledged receipt of the Commissioner for Human Rights report of 7 October outlining the results of a recent visit to Ankara. I am pleased to note that the Commissioner reported on the matter of the regime in Turkey. I reiterate what I said at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, namely, that the core principles of democracy, including human rights, must be at all times practised and protected in Turkey. I recognise that the extreme measures in Turkey are in response to a shocking attack on democracy. However, it must be recognised that there are no circumstances under which this can be used as an excuse for measures that might be described as either harsh or disproportionate. The best antidote to terrorism is human rights and the rule of law. The Turkish authorities should adopt a more targeted and transparent approach in this regard.
A number of Turkish intellectuals have also been imprisoned, in particular Ahmet and Mehmet Altan. There was no substantial evidence to back-up the charges of their involvement in the coup. They were accused of participating in the plot by giving subliminal or subconscious messages in a TV talk show before the coup. One of them has been released under judicial supervision, probably because of a major high profile campaign by people from academia, intellectuals and so on. There are other Turkish intellectuals and journalists in prison who do not have the backing of that kind of campaign. There is a need for a strong statement from Ireland condemning the purge of educators and journalists. Perhaps the Minister would say if he has had any conversation with the Turkish ambassador to Ireland on this matter.
It is important that this debate be placed in the context of there being a state of emergency in Turkey following the unacceptable coup. This state of emergency first imposed on 20 July has been extended to 20 January next. Ireland has strongly stated its view that the principles of democracy, including human rights, must at all times be honoured, maintained and protected. I have urged the Turkish authorities to revert to what might be described as ordinary procedures or rule of law and safeguards as soon as possible, such that we will see in Turkey a return to a sense of normal politics. In terms of public utterances I have encouraged the Turkish authorities to avail of the offer on the part of the Council of Europe to make the widest use possible of the experience, guidance and expertise of the Council of Europe in the process of a return to normality.