“Inside Turkey’s prisons the conditions for political prisoners are becoming increasingly barbaric.”Kate Osborne MP
Last week in Parliament, I highlighted the increasingly authoritarian policies of President Erdoğan and the Turkish Government during a Westminster Hall Debate on the Arrest of Opposition Politicians in Turkey.
Extreme repression and the decline of democracy has been a concern in Turkey since the peace talks broke down in 2015 between the Kurds and President Erdoğan, and the failed coup in July 2016 by a faction of the Turkish armed forces. Since these events, we have seen a war being waged against the Kurdish population and an outrageous aggressive foreign policy being pursued in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Azerbaijan.
As things stand, President Erdoğan and his far-right regime are engaged in a campaign of annihilation against the main opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is majority Kurdish, dragging Turkey into further political polarisation, social turmoil, and economic instability. It has led to tens of thousands of journalists, trade unionists, teachers, opposition politicians, human rights activists, women’s activists, and countless others being jailed and/or dismissed from their jobs.
HDP activists and politicians have suffered continuous harassment, arrests, and imprisonment, including over 700 arrests on 15 February this year. They are arrested under the guise of ‘belonging to a terrorist organisation’, or ‘promotion of a terrorist group’. It has led to the party’s leaders all receiving lengthy prison sentences and elected MPs and local politicians arrested and replaced with the Government’s appointed trustees. It is now looking increasingly likely that the ongoing political and legal onslaught on the HDP may well result in the party being banned.
Inside Turkey’s prisons the conditions for political prisoners at the hands of this brutal regime are becoming increasingly barbaric. Kurdish and HDP prisoners are often purposely placed miles away from home in nationalist areas. There is little access to healthcare for these political prisoners and they were the only category of prisoner that were refused release to stop the spread of covid-19.
This authoritarian regime has had a disproportionate effect on women in the country with their legal rights eroded. Many women politicians and trade union activists have been terrorised for defending basic human rights. Women have faced abuse and violence, often by uniformed authorities, and disappearances by the police are commonplace. Non-governmental organisations, including women’s groups and human rights organisations, have been closed by the authorities in the country.
The LGBT+ community has also come under threat from the authoritarian policies of President Erdoğan. The country’s justice system is systematically used to criminalise peaceful activities such as Pride events and art exhibitions. Several students and an academic are currently facing prison sentences for organising a Pride march on campus that was banned by the university.
Trade unionists are under constant attack by the current regime in Turkey, facing both administrative and judicial harassment for carrying out legitimate trade union activities. Workers who dare to exercise their democratic right to protest in the country are often arrested and sent to trial on bogus anti-terror legislation.
We know that the UK Government have been complicit in Turkey’s war on Kurds through its continued sale of weapons. In December last year the UK Government signed a trade agreement with the Government of Turkey that contains no enforceable commitments for Turkey to respect labour rights, following the same approach as Turkey’s customs agreement with the EU. This means that it will not be possible to use the UK-Turkey agreement to stop the Government of Turkey abusing the rights of unions and workers and committing widespread human rights abuses, as they have done in an increasingly brutal manner in recent years.
I was grateful that my Labour colleague, Feryal Clark, led a Westminster hall debate last week where we were able to call on the UK Government to take a much firmer line against Turkey’s continued human rights and workers’ rights violations, both within and outside its own borders. I also called on the UK Government to do all they can to push the Turkish Government to work towards protecting fundamental minority rights in the country, and to make it a requirement of the Government of Turkey to show respect for core International Labour Organisation conventions. I urged the UK Government to commit to suspending the UK-Turkey trade deal should the Turkish government implement their threatened ban on the socially progressive HDP party.
Socialists who believe in the fight for peace and justice should be extremely concerned about the way Turkey, a UK ally, is becoming a one-party, one-religion, one-ideology state. We cannot allow this Tory government to turn a blind eye on Human Rights violations carried out by repressive authoritarian governments such as this. We must do all we can to show solidarity with our Kurdish brothers and sisters and I will continue to use my platform in Parliament to speak out on these injustices.