The state of democracy and human rights in Turkey has been alarming in recent years. That is why this year’s election is called the most important in the modern history of the country. They show a glimmer of hope that change will come and end Erdogan’s 20-year autocratic rule. But what changes can we expect in terms of human rights management? We spoke to 2018 Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award winner Murat Kelikkan about current issues facing the country and the potential impact of various election results on human rights.
Turkey will hold a second round of elections on May 28. Incumbent President Recep Erdogan and opposition candidate Kemal Kilisadaroglu will meet again, as no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for two decades, first as prime minister and later as president, whose politics have led the country to authoritarianism and democratic backwardness, is more likely than ever to lose.
Erdogan’s regime has worsened the country’s human rights situation, threatening freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, women’s rights, and the rights of the LGBT+ community and ethnic minorities.
Can you identify the most pressing human rights issues in Turkey today?
Since everything has been declining rapidly since 2015, it is very difficult to identify one. But the breakdown of the rule of law may be a more pressing issue. Judges and prosecutors are acting like whips of the president and carrying out illegal, unconscionable convictions and arrests. Of course, what goes hand in hand is the lack of freedom of speech. Perhaps another issue is the disproportionate use of force by the security forces in any peaceful demonstration.
How has the political situation in Turkey changed in the last few years? What impact has this had on human rights?
Imagine a country where 80 million people are imprisoned by one man’s mind. And think of that person as a very authoritarian, religious, pro-conservative. This is what is happening in Turkey now. Turkey has the highest number of terrorists in the world, according to judicial statistics, because prosecutors and judges tend to apply anti-terror laws arbitrarily and loosely. There are tens of thousands of people who have been charged or convicted under anti-terror laws. Thousands of people insult the president. You cannot hold a peaceful demonstration or protest anywhere in Turkey. Security forces will attack you directly. The Home Secretary targets and criminalises LGBTI+ people on a daily basis. The legitimate Kurdish party in the opposition is called a terrorist by government representatives. Any opportunity or space for politics is closed.
Why is the presidential election in Turkey one of the most important and critical moments in the country’s recent history?
The country is almost bankrupt. Inflation is said to be 150%. The partisanship is so strong that none of the institutions in the country can function effectively. The last earthquake was the most amazing experience of this. Thousands of lives have been lost because of the mediocre system. On the other hand, this is the first time in Turkey’s political history that many parties with many political interests have formed a front against the autocracy. Therefore, this is a historic moment to create the necessary change for democracy and human rights in Turkey.
If Turkey’s long-term president Erdogan wins the election, opposition candidate Kemal Kildaroglu wins, and what impact might their politics have on specific areas of human rights?
If the opposition wins, the space for joint future discussions may be limited. With Erdogan, there is no civic or political environment for democracy and human rights.
What are the most urgent issues that should be addressed by the opposition candidate (if he wins) to improve the human rights situation?
Government institutions, judiciary, security forces, academia and the press are political activists. For the past 7 years, there is no room for any protest or discussion. Human rights organizations and individuals are either ostracized or criminalized. LGBTI+ people are directly targeted by this government as immoral, perverted western emissaries to destroy Turkish families, etc. Women are at risk of losing their collective rights and anyone from the Kurdish minority group who wants to raise a voice for Kurdish rights, is either imprisoned or convicted of terrorism. The only real example in Turkey now is security with neighbors, in the region or in the country. The whole system and ideology must change.
What are your personal hopes for the long-term outcome and change in the country?
Even if the opposition wins, human rights defenders will fight hard to ensure that the human rights claims that have been accumulating for a long time are resolved properly and fairly. Therefore, in both election results, human rights defenders have to work very hard.
Murat Kelikkan – 2018 civil rights activist
In the year In 2018, Murat Kelikkan was the recipient of the Civil Rights Advocate of the Year Award. He is a journalist by profession, and one of the most determined voices in the country. Despite the increasingly difficult situation for the country’s civil society, the struggle for a more open Turkey continues.
Read more about Murat Kelikkan and the Civil Rights Activist of the Year Award.
Ahead of the election, civil rights activists stood in solidarity with human rights defenders, activists and civil society organizations in Turkey who work tirelessly to uphold human rights. We call on the authorities to create a safe and supportive environment in which these individuals and groups can continue their important work. Human rights must be respected and prioritized during elections and in the future regarding the outcome of elections.