On Tuesday 11 May 2021, a group of over 50 British Parliamentarians co-signed a letter to Foregin Secretary Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab MP, pertaining to the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey.
The letter, penned by Conservative Member of Parliament Crispin Blunt and Labour’s Hilary Benn MP, highlighted a number of ongoing issues in Turkey and called for the Foreign Secretary to make an early statement to Parliament recognising that while Turkey is a British ally:
“the UK owes the people of Turkey a duty to speak up openly for a return to the path of democracy and respect for human rights and pluralism”
President Erdogan is blamed for a sharp reverse in progress where Turkish human rights are concerned. The MPs condemn: “the mass imprisonment of journalists, the suppression of democratic political opposition and the recent wave of intimidation of human rights defenders needs to be addressed”.
Crispin Tweet here:
On Tuesday, over 50 Parliamentarians co-signed a joint letter between @hilarybennmp and I regarding the need for the Foreign Sec to make early statement to the #Turkish Government that the UK will not tolerate worsening human rights and the country’s slide into authoritarianism. pic.twitter.com/KA1inSQbX5
— Crispin Blunt MP (@CrispinBlunt) May 13, 2021
As the second worst jailer of journalists globally, Turkey is only preceded by China. Last month, Turkey was ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, which stated:
“Even if Turkey is no longer the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, the risk of imprisonment and the fear of being subjected to judicial control or stripped of one’s passport is ever-present.The government controls 90% of the national media by means of regulators…All means possible are used to eliminate pluralism. In this “New Turkey” marked by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hyper-presidency, one in which arbitrary decisions by magistrates and government agencies are the new normal, Internet censorship has reached unprecedented levels.”
The joint letter, titled: Britain’s relationship with Turkey, raised the plight of Turkish MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu who had his parliamentary immunity revoked before being imprisoned as a result of a social media post.
In February 2021, the International Observatory of Human Rights wrote an open letter in solidarity with Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, supported by 203 global human rights organisations, members of parliament, academics and civil society members.
The British MPs letter to Mr. Raab emphasised that: “As Parliamentarians, all of us should be worried by the imprisonment of MPs, not least those who have been working for the human rights of all parts of Turkish Society.”
The ongoing detention of Ozturk Turkdogan, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association, the country’s biggest human rights organisation was also raised by the cross party group, saying his case was:
“Part of an growing pattern which increasingly calls into question whether Turkey actually shares our democratic values and attachment to the rule of law”
Turkey was tentatively praised for the government appointed constitutional court deciding against having the opposition HDP party “closed down”, and the recently announced Human Rights Action Plan noted.
However, the overriding sentiment relayed a continuing deterioration of the human rights in Turkey. The letter comes at a time in which Britain’s relationships with such countries are faced with increased scrutiny.
As Britain seeks to make trade deals post-Brexit, many members of parliament on both sides remain keen to ensure future deals are compatible with our values as a country.
The government has so far defeated attempts to ensure ministers make a formal assessment of a country’s human rights record before confirmation of a trade deal. As well as defeating a separate amendment to the trade bill which would have allowed British courts to overrule trade deals with countries found guilty of genocide.
Yet both suggestions garnered significant cross party support, and the Government will continue to be drawn into difficult conversations about allies such as Turkey.