Turkey’s Post-Coup Victims Find No Relief in Human Rights Court
Prerequisites remain impossible to fulfill by numbers too great to serve
ISTANBUL – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected 99 per cent of the 27,000 applications from Turkish citizens dismissed from their jobs following the failed coup attempt last year, an ECHR spokesperson told The Media line.
The ECHR requires that all domestic legal remedies be exhausted by an applicant before it will accept their case.
However, experts say this means a huge number of Turks who have been caught up in a massive purge following the attempted coup in July last year can wait up to ten years for politically compromised courts to render a decision before being able to apply to the ECHR.
“The European Court of Human Rights is our biggest hope,” Veysel Ok, a lawyer who has applied to the ECHR on behalf of four prominent imprisoned journalists, told The Media Line.
But Ok says the ECHR’s requirement for exhaustion of domestic legal remedies isn’t appropriate for Turkey, where the rule of law is now in serious question.
“[The ECHR] should understand that the law in Turkey isn’t effective or functional. If Turkey were Switzerland or Sweden, you could try all of the legal ways in your own country before applying to the ECHR, but in Turkey all of those ways are blocked.”
After the coup attempt, Ankara declared a state of emergency and suspended some elements of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since then, some 60,000 people have been arrested, and about 150,000 civil servants have been dismissed or suspended by executive decree, mostly on terrorism-related charges, and often with no evidence provided.
Critics say the dismissals have spiraled into a massive liquidation of all stripes of government critics who had nothing to do with the attempted coup.
The former state workers are not only dismissed, but their passports have been cancelled, and they’ve been officially blacklisted from working for the state and unofficially blacklisted from the private sector.
“Lawyers are afraid to defend us,” says a 37-year-old academic dismissed by decree in September 2016. Police later showed up at his home in the middle of the night, detained him for one month and removed custody of his two adopted children.
“They put me on the ground, hit me on the head with their rifles, handcuffed me behind my back,” the academic, who didn’t want to be named, told The Media Line.
“They took my kids from me because they think I’m a terrorist.”
He tried to appeal with a local court and Turkey’s Constitutional Court, but heard nothing back. He also applied with the ECHR, but his application was rejected.
“I expected Europe to support democracy and democratic people in Turkey. They disappointed me […] especially the [ECHR],” he told The Media Line.
“They left us to this cruel government.”
After a recommendation from the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe that Turkey is part of, Ankara established the Inquiry Commission for State of Emergency Measures in January.
The commission, which was quickly inundated with over 100,000 applications, was set up to provide judicial review for dismissed workers, since the executive decrees weren’t initially open to appeals.
But the Commission didn’t begin taking applications until July and has yet to deliver a single decision.
The dismissed academic applied several months ago but heard nothing back.
“The Commission doesn’t give any decisions, they only try to waste our time,” he said.
Critics also say the Commission is subservient to the government
“The Commission has no independence at all. [Its members] might be taken out of their positions if they decide against the view of the government.” Kerem Altıparmak, a prominent expert in human rights law at the University of Ankara, told The Media Line.
“The decisions that will be given by [the Commission] cannot be deemed an effective remedy.”
Zeynep Mercan, a sacked judge, was detained for 65 days on July 17 and fired from her position the next month. She wrote an application to the ECHR from prison that became the first related to the post-coup purges that the Court ruled on.
“The police and prosecutor said ‘You did it. You’re the member of a terrorist organization.’ No explanation, no investigation,” Mercan told The Media Line.
“I had to [apply to the ECHR] because they had to know about our situation.”
Mercan is one of over 4,000 judges and prosecutors dismissed since the failed coup, leaving behind a shattered legal system.
“The judicial system and rule of law are in real crisis in Turkey,” Altıparmak says.
Even the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest court, had two of its judges purged, with no concrete evidence. The Court, which can’t rule on the constitutionality of the decree-laws, has dismissed over 70,000 applications, referring them to the appeals Commission.
“Almost all critical [Constitutional Court] cases are decided unanimously, and none of them are against the will of the government,” Altıparmak says.
“Vagueness and arbitrariness are the rule in Turkey now, and the Constitutional Court doesn’t provide a guarantee [against that].”
There’s also allegedly a great deal of pressure against defense lawyers who take on political cases, Ok says.
“All lawyers like me, if they work on freedom of speech and political cases, they have problems. The government’s media attacks lawyers,” he said.
Ok says that even judges are afraid of being removed or dismissed if they rule in a way that Ankara doesn’t like.
“As lawyers, we’ve lost our hope in the Turkish justice system,” he said.
Nate Schenkkan, Project Director at democracy watchdog Freedom House’s Nations in Transit project, says the legal system in Turkey has never treated all groups equally, but the post-coup environment is worse than in the past.
“Marginalized groups did not have access to justice and weren’t treated fairly within the system, [but] the scope of that has now been expanded vastly,” he told The Media Line.
“It’s now in the millions of people, maybe tens of millions. It’s a crisis in that way”
Altıparmak says massive structural changes are needed to fix the Turkish legal system.
“At the moment, I have no real hope for the Turkish judiciary.”