The UK’s relations with Turkey Contents

4The Turkish government’s response to the threat from the coup attempt

The State of Emergency

106.The lethal violence underpinning the coup attempt of 15 July 2016 represents a denial of the most basic of human rights and freedoms, as well as of the values of democracy. As the FCO repeated to us, the UK supports Turkey’s right and obligation to defend itself against such threats, and to punish the perpetrators.173 At the same time, Turkey accepts—as an intrinsic part of its values—legal limitations to the way in which a state can respond to such threats, so as to protect the values, rights, freedoms that are threatened by terrorism, coups, and other crimes.174

107.On 21 July 2016, after the 15 July coup attempt, Turkey declared a State of Emergency. In the formal notification that Turkey provided to the Council of Europe, under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Turkey said that its basis for declaring the Emergency was not just the coup attempt, but also the threat from terrorism:

The coup attempt and its aftermath together with other terrorist acts have posed severe dangers to public security and order, amounting to a threat to the life of the nation in the meaning of Article 15 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.175

The State of Emergency was extended by the Turkish parliament for a further three months in October 2016 and then for a second time for another three months, in January 2017.

108.Under the terms of Turkey’s Constitution,176 a State of Emergency enhances the powers of the Turkish state in order to counter threats to national security and stability. One of its most salient features is its granting to the President, supported by the council of ministers, the power to issue legislative decrees that have the status of law without being passed by parliament. At the same time, the State of Emergency also suspends or reduces some of the rights and freedoms that are conventionally guaranteed to the citizen under the Turkish constitution, including some of those with regard to dismissal from employment, detention, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.177 International law takes account of the existence of a State of Emergency, and the declaration of an Emergency alters some of Turkey’s international obligations. The ECHR permits the declaration of a State of Emergency under the provisions of its Article 15, “in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”, and this is the clause that Turkey applied to the coup attempt and its aftermath and to terrorism.

109.Article 15 of the ECHR nevertheless applies with specific restrictions: certain provisions of the ECHR remain in place even under a State of Emergency, including the right to life except in respect of deaths resulting from lawful acts of war (Article 2), the prohibition of torture (Article 3), and the principle of ‘no punishment without law’ (Article 7).178 Governments must remain bound by their other commitments under international law. And any actions taken by the Government under a State of Emergency must be “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”. This latter point means that a State of Emergency should over time be self-correcting, because the measures taken under it should remove the circumstances that justify their existence. In light of this, witnesses expressed a number of concerns to us about the basis of the State of Emergency in Turkey. These concerns were summarised to us by Dr Alan Greene, a Lecturer in Law at Durham University:

110.In terms of Turkey’s legal obligations under the State of Emergency, the submission from the Turkish Embassy said:

In the face of grave and violent attacks against the national security and FETO terrorist organisation’s infiltration everywhere, the declaration of the State of Emergency was deemed necessary. The Republic of Turkey adheres to its obligations stemming from international conventions to which it is a party and strongly adheres to democracy, human rights, the principle of rule of law. In this process, due respect will continue to be shown to protect fundamental rights and freedoms and the principle of supremacy of law will be strictly observed, as always. Legal remedies are available against acts and measures to be taken within the context of the State of Emergency, including individual application to Constitutional Court. The supervision of the European Court of Human Rights remains valid.183

Referring to Article 15 of the ECHR, the Embassy also told us that Turkey’s response was necessary and proportionate.184 The FCO said that the UK emphasised to Turkey the importance of complying with these obligations:

Ministers have also made clear the importance of ensuring measures taken under the State of Emergency are measured and proportionate, upholding democratic principles and Turkey’s international human rights obligations.185

111.Terrorism and coup attempts are a denial of the most basic of human rights and freedoms, as well as of the values of democracy. It would be naïve to assume that any country would go through a coup such as the one Turkey went through and not see significant changes made in order to protect its democracy and the rule of law. The UK is right to support Turkey’s defence of itself against future threats from coups and terrorism. However, Turkey must demonstrate its commitment to upholding its international legal obligations during its response to these threats, and the UK has an important role to play in ensuring Turkey’s compliance.

112.The State of Emergency in Turkey significantly expands the power of the executive, while also curtailing some of the rights and freedoms of the citizen. While the implementation of the State of Emergency is understandable given the events of the July coup attempt, the Turkish government needs to provide the international community with a clear indication that it is seeking a path to normalise the security situation. States of Emergency should be self-correcting, as the powers that they allow should address the threat that permits them. The threat to which they apply should be specific. Although permissible under, and guided by, the provisions of Article 15 of the European Convention in Human Rights (ECHR), a broad and vague application of the State of Emergency in Turkey, in a way that extends far beyond addressing the causes of the coup attempt, risks a prolonged period of Emergency rule, and that raises the risk of people’s rights being abused.

113.The FCO should press Turkey to ensure that

a)the provisions of Turkey’s State of Emergency, and the actions taken under them, are proportionate to the exigencies of the circumstances that triggered the Emergency’s declaration, and that these exigencies are given as narrow a definition as possible

b)the State of Emergency is temporary, not prolonged, and is lifted as soon as possible

c)That Turkey complies fully with its ECHR obligations.

Detentions and dismissals after the coup attempt

114.The scale of dismissals and detentions that have taken place after the 15 July coup attempt has been significant. In terms of dismissals, we have seen official figures cited in January 2017 during a television interview by the Turkish Labour Minister Labour, Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu,186 and which were corroborated for us by the FCO as official Turkish figures at that time. These were that 97,679 public servants had been permanently dismissed from their jobs and a further 37,677 had been temporarily suspended.187 In terms of the numbers of people detained, the Committee has seen figures—again dated to January 2017—that were published by the state news agency, Anadolu, and attributed to sources in Turkey’s Justice Ministry. These were that legal action had been taken against approximately 103,000 people and that approximately 41,000 of them had been remanded in custody.188 Sir Alan Duncan told us that “the scale of arrests and detentions is massive and needs to be explained and justified”189 and that “I think that anyone would share the concern that they do appear over-extensive.”190

115.We consider it likely that these numbers have since risen, but the latest figures are difficult to obtain. We asked the Turkish Embassy in London to provide us with the latest figures at the conclusion of our inquiry but, despite being asked for them directly, the Embassy did not do so.191 Instead, the Embassy told us that “as the investigations continue, the numbers of those dismissed/suspended are not definite.”192 There also appears to be uncertainty on facts as fundamental as how many individuals face trial by a court, and how many have so far been found guilty or acquitted. The Committee wrote to the FCO for clarification, and was told that

With regard to criminal trials, the [Turkish] Justice Minister said on 1 February [2017] that 1,094 trials have been opened against alleged coup plotters and members of the Gülen movement. Many of those trials have multiple defendants. Only a handful of cases have concluded and there are not currently official figures on those found guilty or acquitted.193

Dismissal by decree

116.From the above figures, it appears as though only a minority of those dismissed from their employment after the coup attempt have had criminal charges pressed against them. The Turkish Embassy’s written submission asked for a distinction to be drawn between those who were subject to criminal investigation at the behest of the judiciary, and those who had been dismissed from their jobs as part of “administrative proceedings” or an “administrative” investigation on the basis of the decree powers afforded to the executive by the State of Emergency. It said that

Dismissals can be made via lists annexed to Decrees or through Board decisions that function within public institutions in accordance with the Laws and Decrees.194

117.Although the Turkish Embassy told the Committee that “dismissals should not be seen as criminal punitive actions”,195 it is unclear how else they should be interpreted, given that these dismissals occurred after the coup attempt and overwhelmingly on the basis of Emergency decree powers that are intended to protect the state against the most severe of threats. Additionally, the provisions that apply to those dismissed appear tantamount to punishments that will severely and adversely affect their lives, and to punishment without necessarily being able to see the evidence against them or ever being tried by a court. In a Memorandum published in October 2016, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights wrote of the dismissals that

118.The extent of the consequences for those seen as previously associated with the Gülen movement was brought home to us in the conversations we had with major private sector representatives. Their anxiety not to recruit anyone with the taint of such association reinforced the impression that even inadvertent and wholly innocent association with Gülenists was now likely to have catastrophic long term individual and family consequences and therefore provide the scope for wide ranging and sustained injustice.

The range of sectors affected

119.As well as the scale of the dismissals and detentions that took place after the coup attempt, what is also striking is the number of different sectors affected. After a military coup attempt, it is to be expected that the armed forces will be extensively investigated and some of its members dismissed or subject to other punishments. In Turkey, before the end of July 2016, the three branches of Turkey’s armed forces had lost almost half of their most senior officers to dismissals. According to information published in the state news agency Anadolu on 28 July 2016:

Of the armed forces’ 325 most senior officers, 149 have been sacked … In the army, 87 out of 202 generals [ … ]were discharged; 32 out of 56 admirals, [ … ]were dismissed from the navy; and 30 out of 67 generals [ … ]lost their air force posts.200

120.The scale of these purges within the armed forces raises questions in its own right about what impact there might be on the efficacy of Turkey’s military.201 But a wide range of civilians sectors were also affected. Even before the end of July 2016, those dismissed included 42,767 staff from the Ministry of National Education (around half of them teachers and half of them support staff), 2,239 academics from state universities, and others from Ministries ranging from the Ministry of Health (5,581 dismissals) and the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock (1,379 dismissals) to the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs (221 dismissals). A publication produced by the state news agency, Anadolu, detailed these dismissals along with others from dozens of other sectors.202 The numbers of those dismissed by decree in Turkey has subsequently risen.

121.Almost 100,000 people were permanently dismissed from their employment in Turkey following the coup attempt, while between 30,000 and 40,000 were temporarily suspended. The Turkish government itself seems uncertain about the latest figure, but the number is likely to have risen since these numbers were published in January 2017. Most appear to have lost their jobs, and been subjected to a range of other punishments, on the basis of executive decrees that are permitted by Turkey’s State of Emergency. They do not face criminal charges, and were not tried by a court before their punishment.

122.Given the anecdotal and circumstantial nature of the evidence that has been used to link the Gülenists with the coup attempt, we question the evidential basis upon which these individuals—including the majority who held positions in the education sector or civil service, rather than the military branch of the state—were designated by the state as terrorists, or connected to the coup attempt, under Turkey’s State of Emergency. The coup attempt has also been used as an opportunity to dismiss large numbers of non-military government employees that were opposed to or critical of the government and President, as well as those suspected of links to the Gülen movement.

Means of appeal and redress

123.The Turkish Embassy told us that “domestic remedies exist for those who believe they have been “wrongfully suspected” in the anti-terrorism probes”.203 A written submission from the Embassy explained that

For dismissals; boards have been established at the office of Prime Minister, within the public institutions and the Offices of Governors across Turkey. Upon individual applications to these boards, over 31 thousand public employees have been reinstated, to date.

Moreover, with the Decree 685 dated 2 January 2017, a special commission (Inquiry Commission on State of Emergency Measures) has been established as a binding legal remedy to address measures that are taken directly with Decrees.

In this respect, the Commission will assess applications regarding acts and measures that are taken directly with Decrees. These include dismissals of public employees and closure of associations, institutions, as well as media outlets, as listed in relevant Decrees. Establishment of the Inquiry Commission provides an effective domestic legal remedy concerning such cases.204

124.The Turkish Embassy therefore told us that 31,000 public employees had been reinstated after their cases were investigated. This figure marked a significant increase on the previous numbers provided to the Committee. When the Committee met President Erdoğan on 17 January 2017, he told us that approximately 19,500 public servants had been reinstated. Similarly, when Sir Alan Duncan gave evidence to the Committee on 31 January 2017, he said that 20,000 civil servants had been reinstated.205

125.Our assessments from interviews conducted during our visit to Turkey in January 2017 were less optimistic, and indicated that—by that time—only a very small number of people had been restored to their work. The opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, which is one of four to have representation in Turkey’s parliament, is one of the sources to have commented that there still exists only a limited number of institutions that are able to hear appeals in Turkey, and that their ability to hear adequately the more than 100,000 cases that could be presented is therefore limited.206 As well as the capacity constraint, the HDP also questioned the impartiality of the Commission of Inquiry in particular, saying that

The Prime Minister will appoint three of the seven members of this commission. One member will be appointed by the Minister of Justice, one by the Minister of Interior, and the remaining two members will be assigned by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors[ … ]

The fact that members of the commission will be assigned directly by the government (prime minister and ministers) and High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, known for its biased and controversial structure and decisions, raises serious concerns about the independence and impartiality of the commission. The Commission will evaluate the results of emergency rule decrees of the Council of Ministers who will appoint the members of the commission, which is scandalous.207

126.The Turkish government told us that avenues for appeal and redress existed for those dismissed, and that 31,000 civil servants had been restored to their employment by the beginning of March 2017. The number marked a significant jump from the previous figure of 20,000 that the Committee was given by the FCO one month previously. We hope that it is accurate, but worry that it is not, given the stories of those affected that we heard in Turkey, the small number of public bodies authorised to hear appeals in Turkey, and the large number of appeals that these bodies have been tasked with hearing. If it is accurate, then we regret that it still represents 31,000 people who were punished without good reason, and who are likely to bear consequences of their punishment.

127.Despite the security threats represented by the coup attempt and by terrorism in Turkey, the scale of the current purges—and the number of sectors that they affect—means that we cannot conclude that they are a necessary and proportionate response. The FCO needs to clarify whether it supports the extent of the purges as being justified by the scale of the threat that Turkey is facing.

128.This purge carries significant negative implications for Turkey, and not just for the individuals affected and their families. It risks undermining Turkey’s reputation, its economy, the ability of the UK to trade there, and the capabilities of the Turkish military in the fight against enemies like ISIL. We were encouraged by the nascent language of restraint and reconciliation that we heard at the highest political level when we visited Turkey. The FCO must work to see that this trajectory is pursued in practice, by pressing the Turkish government to ensure that

a)All of those detained or dismissed can access a substantive means of appeal, and that this means of appeal is both fair and prompt. We are concerned that the existing means are too often inaccessible, and too slow in hearing the large number of cases.

b)That these individuals must have access to the evidence against them and to their lawyers.

c)That the structures established to determine their innocence or guilt are sufficiently independent of the executive. There currently remains a risk that they are appointed to a large extent by the institutions whose use of powers they are intended scrutinise.

d)That those who have not yet been reinstated know the avenues of appeal and redress.


173 See, for example, the FCO’s offer of support for Turkey in response to the coup attempt, Foreign and Commonwealth Office TUR0010 paras 8—9

174 Turkish Embassy TUR0012 p 7; Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q1

177 For a summary, see William Hale TUR0007 para 3

179 Council of Europe, “Measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey”, 26 July 2016

180 Dr Alan Greene TUR0006 p 8

181 Dr Alan Greene TUR0006 p 4,6

182 Dr Alan Greene TUR0006 p 6

183 Turkish Embassy TUR0012 p 7

184 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q1

185 Foreign and Commonwealth Office TUR0010 para 8

186 See, for example, Mehmet Müezzinoğlu; KHK’lerle kamudan 97 bin 679 kişi ihraç edildi Öğretmenler İçin, 10 October 2017

187 The FCO subsequently provided us with a slightly lower number, of 94,867 public employees having been permanently dismissed since the coup attempt of 15 July 2016 and 30,618 suspended.

189 Q156

190 Q190

191 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q1, Sections a-d

192 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q1

193 Foreign and Commonwealth Office TUR0042 Section 1

194 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q2

195 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q2

196 Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Memorandum on the human rights implications of the measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey (October 2016), para 23—24

197 Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Memorandum on the human rights implications of the measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey (October 2016), para 33

198 Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Memorandum on the human rights implications of the measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey (October 2016), para 33

199 Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Memorandum on the human rights implications of the measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey (October 2016),para 41

201 The Turkish Embassy told us that “ the country’s military capacity has come out almost intact from the thwarted coup attempt”, Turkish Embassy TUR0012 p 5

202 Anadolu Agency FETÖ’’s Coup Attempt in Turkey: A Timeline (July 2016), p 40

203 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q1

204 Turkish Embassy TUR0043 Q4

205 Q200




23 March 2017