The resurgence of the constitutional amendment issue submitted by the People’s Alliance to the Turkish Grand National Assembly last December, ostensibly aimed at ensuring ‘freedom for the headscarf,’ has been one of the most notable political events in the past two weeks. The AKP, in collaboration with the MHP, lacks sufficient parliamentary seats to pass a constitutional amendment without a referendum. In response, they called for a ‘right-wing alliance,’ seeking support from other right-wing and conservative parties expected to back the amendment. However, it appears that this call, which excludes the CHP, did not receive approval from the parties involved, particularly the IYI Party, the largest party in terms of numerical strength in the Parliament.
Indeed, the IYI Party, which had previously expressed reluctance towards the AKP’s proposition, declared on August 26th its intention to participate in the upcoming local elections independently. Meral Akşener emphasized her stance against forming alliances and cooperating with other parties. As anticipated in our previous Freedom Observer, the leader of the IYI Party, Meral Akşener, whose strategic objective is to establish a solitary presence within the “center-right” of the political spectrum, became more evident through this announcement. She is evidently moving away from other opposition parties and choosing a solo path.
However, it appears unlikely that Akşener will be able to accomplish her strategic objective and simultaneously achieve substantial success in the forthcoming local elections solely based on her own influence. Her estimation of her popularity and her party’s strength might be seen as overly optimistic.
Simultaneously, it appears that the other parties approached by the AKP for the “right-wing alliance” are displaying reservations towards the idea. Recent statements from the Saadet Party and the Future Party from the past week suggest that these parties have yet to adopt a definitive stance on the proposition and are inclined against engaging in such an alliance.
On the contrary, the DEVA Party’s response stands out as more principled and seems to signify a clear rejection. The statement explicitly expresses that they will not endorse actions by the government that could lead to societal polarization over the headscarf, especially considering the government’s lack of enforcement of existing laws. Furthermore, the statement emphasizes the need for those advocating justice against authoritarian structures to unite. Given the DEVA Party’s consistent commitment to liberal-democratic principles, their reluctance to align permanently with the People’s Alliance parties, associated with the present autocratic regime, or even with the IYI Party, whose ideological proximity to the MHP in terms of statism and nationalism is evident, is not an unexpected standpoint.
* Prof. Dr. Mustafa Erdoğan
Discussions on General Amnesty
In recent times, there have been persistent rumors about the potential declaration of a general amnesty on the occasion of the Republic’s 100th anniversary. It is speculated that an amnesty law will be enacted, slated to come into effect on October 29, 2023. While there has been no official announcement regarding this matter, numerous civil society organizations and some political parties have been vocally advocating for a general amnesty.
In the meantime, the Minister of Justice has recently announced their preparation of a judicial reform strategy document and a human rights action plan. Nevertheless, it remains uncertain whether these initiatives encompass the consideration of amnesty.
As a well-known legal institution, general amnesty entails the dismissal of public cases and the removal of criminal convictions along with their associated consequences for the crimes covered by such amnesty, as determined by law. Given that general amnesty may lead to a state of impunity for certain offenses, it is a remedy that should be employed sparingly, reserved for truly exceptional circumstances. Frequent use of amnesties can foster a perception of impunity and potentially serve as an incentive for criminal behavior.
The call for amnesty in Turkey has been driven by the significant number of individuals who have faced trials and penalties for offenses classified as political crimes, such as crimes against the state or terrorism-related charges. The alarming reality is that a diverse range of individuals, including politicians, journalists, civil society activists, academics, and those affected by state of emergency decrees, have been subjected to legal proceedings and sanctions based on vague accusations. These accusations often relate to actions that should be protected as the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms. Consequently, this widespread pattern has generated a prevailing sense of injustice within society.
Moreover, numerous international observers have highlighted the unpredictable and expansive interpretation of terrorism legislation in Turkey, often accompanied by vague and arbitrary applications of legal concepts. Notably, esteemed organizations such as the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Commission have issued repeated warnings regarding the erratic application of criminal legislation, which is deemed inconsistent with the principles outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on several occasions that certain articles of the Turkish Penal Code, including Articles 125/3, 220/6, 220/7, 299, 301, and 314 are subject to unpredictable enforcement, resulting in systemic issues that contravene Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention.
There is therefore no doubt that unfair sentences have been imposed and that many people have been unjustly deprived of their liberty.
However, the critical issue is whether these injustices can be redressed by a general amnesty. The main reason for the unpredictable and broad interpretation of terrorism and criminal legislation is the fact that the judiciary has been placed under the influence of the executive and the ECtHR judgments are not taken into account by the judicial authorities despite the explicit command of the Constitution. Therefore, injustice is caused by the fact that the institutional independence and impartiality of the judiciary is not guaranteed and practices have moved away from the rule of law. Therefore, the real solution is to return to the rule of law and guarantee the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
Nevertheless, it is unrealistic to anticipate an immediate development in the short term. Hence, advocating for an amnesty, particularly on behalf of those who have been unjustly deprived of their liberty, becomes imperative. It is crucial that such an amnesty prioritizes genuine victims.
For instance, the government has previously amended execution legislation in both 2020 and the summer of 2023, resulting in the granting of special amnesties to ordinary criminals, leading to the release of hundreds of thousands of individuals. However, what remains deeply troubling is that political prisoners, who are widely regarded as the primary victims, were not encompassed within the scope of these regulatory changes. This raises a serious concern that a new amnesty may once again exclude political prisoners, a prospect that is entirely unacceptable.
* Ali Rıza Çoban – Constitutional Lawyer
Journalist Barış Pehlivan Arrested for the Fifth Time
Cumhuriyet columnist Barış Pehlivan has been arrested for the fifth time and sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison within the scope of a lawsuit filed in 2020. He was initially sentenced to prison in 2020 for revealing the identity of an MİT (National Intelligence Organization) member who lost his life while serving in Libya.
Pehlivan was released on probation after serving six months in prison, with the condition that he would not commit another crime. Two years later, in March 2023, the court determined that Pehlivan had violated his probation conditions due to a lawsuit filed against him regarding a news article he had published. As a result, he was ordered to return to prison.
Pehlivan, who spent only a few hours in prison, regained his freedom through a Covid-19 permit. Although Pehlivan had applied for probation, his request was denied by the prosecutor’s office. It is reported that there has been no response yet from Silivri Execution Judge No. 2. Furthermore, Pehlivan did not benefit from the regulation preventing convicts on Covid-19 leave from returning to prison, which resulted in his placement in Marmara Prison in Silivri. In the absence of a favorable response from the court, it is expected that Pehlivan will remain in prison for another 8 months.
Meanwhile, Pehlivan’s repeated imprisonment has sparked strong reactions from politicians and the journalism community. CHP President Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu expressed his support for Pehlivan by stating, ‘Independent and courageous journalists like Barış Pehlivan will not yield today, just as they did not yield yesterday; they will always continue to write the truth.’
The Journalists’ Association of Turkey (TGC) also issued a statement in support of Pehlivan, emphasizing that the arrest decisions represent a punitive policy, and that ‘practicing journalism should not be a cause for imprisonment.
Pehlivan’s fifth arrest exemplifies the state of the rule of law and the right to a fair trial in Turkey. The rejection of Pehlivan’s probation request by the prosecutor, the unanswered response from the judge, and the denial of the opportunities provided to other convicts on Covid-19 leave are inconsistent with the principles of the rule of law and equality.
Moreover, these arbitrary yet systematic arrests create an atmosphere of intimidation for journalists and illustrate how the media is being pressured through legal proceedings.
It is crucial to emphasize that the public’s right to access the truth can only be realized through journalists who are shielded from censorship and fear. Regrettably, in Turkey, arrests have increasingly been employed as a means of repression against journalists rather than a precautionary measure, ultimately restricting the public’s access to reliable sources of information.
It can also be argued that the detention of journalists indirectly undermines democratic processes. Independent media and press organizations play a critical role in government oversight, and the detention of journalists may hinder their ability to fulfill this vital function. In such cases, media and press organizations influenced by political powers can manipulate public opinion, distort facts, and mislead the public. This, in turn, can hinder active democratic participation by the public in asserting their rights and engaging in discussions on public issues.
In conclusion, the recurrent detention of journalist Barış Pehlivan represents a grave assault on the right to a fair trial, freedom of the press, and access to information. Turkey’s path forward should prioritize the restoration of democratic values and the assurance of press freedom, vital steps toward fostering a just and free society.
* Ömer Faruk Şen – Ph.D. – Missouri University
BRICS Expansion Process and Turkey
The 15th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit convened in Johannesburg, South Africa. While the final declaration of the Johannesburg Summit may not yield immediate results, it holds critical long-term importance. During the summit, the current BRICS members made significant decisions concerning the future and evolution of the BRICS group.
Notably, discussions about expanding the BRICS membership, with a focus on India, were initially met with hesitations. However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement expressing support for increasing the number of BRICS members helped dispel these hesitations.
The foundations of the BRICS project, once rumored to include Turkey and even be renamed as BRICS-T, were established in the aftermath of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks. During this period, American economist Jim O’Neill predicted that rising powers like China, India, Brazil, and Russia would assume significant roles in the future. Russia embraced this perspective and initiated cooperation with these countries. The first BRICS meeting was convened in 2006.
The current BRICS countries collectively account for 40% of the world’s population, a stark contrast to the industrialized G7 countries, which represent only 10% of the global population. Furthermore, this economic alliance constitutes a quarter of the world’s total GDP.
Should oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and countries with substantial populations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Egypt join the BRICS, the alliance has the potential to strengthen even further.
The world financial crisis of 2008 shook the existing system and increased interest in alternatives. The BRIC countries (South Africa had not yet joined the Union at the time) came together for the second time to demand a fairer global economic order. In the process, despite the differences between the member countries, the BRICS countries began to gain economic and political power.
The fact that Turkey is not mentioned among the new members of BRICS clearly shows what kind of foreign policy and international trade system it should aim for.
Surprise Interest Rate Decision
On August 24, 2023, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey convened under the leadership of Hafize Gaye Erkan and made a surprising policy rate adjustment. They increased the rate by 750 basis points (bps), raising it from 17.5 percent to 25 percent. Prior to the meeting, the market’s median expectation for a rate hike was 250 bps. This unexpected decision by the MPC underscores their strong determination to raise interest rates.
In our previous bulletins, we emphasized that the more the Simsek-Erkan duo departed from President Erdoğan’s ‘interest rates are the cause, and inflation is the effect’ narrative, the greater their chances of success. Otherwise, the credibility of economic and financial management could be compromised. In fact, the interest rate hikes in the two prior meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee fell short, leading to a significant credibility issue for this team.
Subsequently, three renowned and competent economists were appointed as deputy governors of the Central Bank. The fact that this rate hike became possible after their appointments undoubtedly had a positive impact on their credibility.
2 Venedik Komisyonu, Türk Ceza Kanunu’nun (TCK) 216., 299., 301. ve 314. Maddelerine İlişkin Rapor, 2016, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2016)002-e , ayrıca bkz. Venedik Komisyonu, Son Dönemde Çıkarılan Kanun Hükmünde Kararnamelerde Yer Alan Medya Özgürlüğüne İlişkin Tedbirler Hakkında Görüş, CDL-AD(2017)007, 10-11 Mart 2017.
3 Dunja Mijatovic, Türkiye Ülke Raporu, Şubat, 2020, https://rm.coe.int/avrupa-konseyi-insan-haklari-komiseri-dunja-mijatovic-1-5-temmuz-2019-/16809c5187
4 Avrupa Komisyonu, Türkiye Raporu 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/turkey_report_2020.pdf
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8 Vedat Şorli/Türkiye, no. 42048/19, 19.10.2021
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10Selahattin Demirtaş/ Türkiye (no.2) [GC], no. 14305/17, 22.12.2020.