LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Turkey of “dismantling human rights protections” on an “unprecedented” scale after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew the country last week from the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.
The move followed Turkey’s chief prosecutor announcing plans to shut down the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for acting “against the indivisible integrity of the state with its country and nation,” which came amid a series of arrests of party members in cities nationwide.
Erdogan “is targeting any institution or part of society that stands in the way of his wide-ranging effort to reshape Turkey’s society,” said HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth.
“The latest developments against parliamentary opposition, the Kurds, and women are all about ensuring the president’s hold on power in violation of human rights and democratic safeguards.”
HRW accused Erdogan of “weaponizing” the “groundbreaking” Council of Europe treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention, to appeal to his religiously conservative base.
“The decision to withdraw (from the treaty) is a profoundly backward step in the struggle to protect women’s rights in Turkey and a major blow for all women across the political spectrum,” Roth said.
HRW said the plan to shut down the HDP is an assault on the democratic rights of millions of Kurds. Turkey, it added, had closed down five other Kurdish parties in the past 30 years.
“Initiating a case to close down a political party that won 11.7 percent of the vote nationally in the 2018 general election, and has 55 elected members of parliament, is a major assault on the rights to political association and expression,” Roth said.
“The move could deny close to six million voters their chosen representatives in violation of their right to vote.”
Turkey’s chief prosecutor, HRW said, had also sought to ban 687 HDP members from political life as part of the broad crackdown against the party.
Earlier this month, HDP Deputy Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was expelled from Parliament over a previous conviction for a social media post.
The party’s former co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, was previously sentenced to three and a half years in prison for insulting Erdogan in 2015 — a move condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered his release but to no avail.
HRW said the state is moving to tighten its grip over civil society organizations and higher education in violation of UN resolutions, and arbitrary detention of political opponents and human rights activists is commonplace.
It called on the US and EU to look beyond Turkey’s strategic importance in the region and respond to its increasing abuse of human rights.
Ahead of the March 25 EU meeting on relations with Ankara, Roth said: “EU leaders should not pretend it is ‘business as usual,’ while Turkey’s government is escalating its assaults on critics, parliamentary democracy, and women’s rights.”