A recent state of emergency decree put into law by the Turkish government on Dec. 24 has seemingly exhausted the patience of the Turkish public. Not only opposition parties, but a wide array of groups, from Turkey’s Union of Bar Associations, to the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSIAD), Turkey’s biggest business association, as well as former President Abdullah Gül, who is also from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), have issued statements urging the government to revise the decree.
Decree number 696 covers a variety of issues, like giving medical treatment rights to high-ranking judges like those given to members of parliament, to rights for those intelligence officers who wish to resign from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). But the articles which have caused instant widespread reaction are two other topics.
One rules that convicts under arrest on terrorism charges should wear single-type uniforms during court appearances. Not for those who have committed rape or theft, but for those arrested on terrorism charges, which is quite vague and flexible in today’s Turkey. For example, almost all journalists and writers – like the ones in the Cumhuriyet newspaper case – are accused of helping terrorist organizations, solely for what they have written and said.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who has been in jail for the past 13 months without appearing before a court so far, has said he would not “bow down to fascism and would put on a shroud rather than wear the uniform.” In the 1980s, convicts who were forced to wear uniforms went on fatal hunger strikes in Turkish prisons. In 1989, a Council of State ruling had said it was not in line with human rights.
The second issue that prompted huge reaction from many sectors and political views of the society is the one that grants legal immunity to “civilians” who have taken part in “actions against coup attempts and their aftermath.” Meral Akşener, the chairwoman of the İYİ (Good) Party, was the first to react to the decree, claiming that it could drag Turkey into a civil war. The main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) and the HDP had emergency meetings and described the move as a tool to smear all opposition acts as terrorism through those who would use force on behalf of the government. CHP spokesman Bülent Tezcan said they would go to the Constitutional Court to annul the decree.
During the day, AK Parti spokesperson Mahir Ünal said the opposition was distorting the truth and the decree would only cover those who took part in events on the night of July 15, 2016 and the day after, July 16.
But the backlash continued. Metin Feyzioğlu, the head of the Union of Bar Associations of Turkey, said the decree was against the basic principles of law and should be withdrawn. In a rare move, former President Abdullah Gül said the language of the decree was ambiguous and must be revised. TÜSIAD, the influential bosses club, issued a statement asking the government to reconsider and take steps to “return to normal” as soon as possible.
The AK Parti government, led by President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, has been ruling the country with state of emergency decrees since July 20, 2016, when the state of emergency was first declared after the four-day military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
This is the first time a widespread reaction was shown against a move by the government after the 2016 coup attempt.