Erdogan promises human rights reform, but critics fear it to be mere lip-service

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Many hailed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Human Rights Action plan announced on Tuesday, March 2. Erdogan’s allies and supporters said that the action plan would not only protect human rights but also make way for implementing new civilian constitution. They stressed that among key features of the plan were setting independent judiciary and following judicial processes with the regulations on detention and judicial control provisions.

The plan comes ahead of Turkey’s 100th anniversary, which was prepared with the funding of about 1.3 million Turkish liras ($177,000) extended by European Union. Critics have been sceptical of Erdogan’s pro-human rights agenda stating that it’s too soon to celebrate as the action plan is yet to prove its significance. Turkish government has two high-profile cases lying ahead of it to show its true intent, including detention of philanthropist Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician and former leader of the third-largest parliamentary party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.

Besides, observers believe that the new action plan which pledges to strengthen freedom of expression, bring Ankara’s human rights level at par with international standards and set just and fair judicial system, failed to provide details of the measures related to arbitrary detentions, long-term imprisonment or restrictions imposed on demonstrations.

Turkish leader in his Tuesday address also hinted that the stated reforms would be implemented in a selective manner. Erdogan said, “We will not water every flower we see. While watering a flower with its head bent means justice, watering a thorn means cruelty.” To silence his western critics, Turkish Premier added that Ankara would also publish an annual human rights report, and would set a specific committee dedicated to monitoring human rights conditions in prisons.

Read more : Turkey: Internal source reveals Erdogan’s plan of setting an official Muslim Brotherhood Party

Despite the big reform promises, Turkey hasn’t implemented anything at ground level to show sincerity of ruling AKP aka Justice and Development Party’s intent. Interestingly, right after Erdogan’s speech on Tuesday, AKP’s deputy parliamentary group chairman, Cahit Ozkan said, “God willing, we will shut down the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the eyes of the people.” Over the past decade, Erdogan administration has detained thousands of the pro-Kurdish HDP members and dismissed over dozens of its elected mayors. It shows the country’s treatment of opposition members. Besides, the country is the world’s leading jailer of the journalist and ranks 107 out of 128 countries in the latest Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, which exhibits level of corruption, fundamental rights, regulatory enforcement and civil justice in a nation.

Sceptical of Erdogan’s new agenda, Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey, wrote on Twitter, “Without action, Turkey’s rule of law promises only point to its leadership’s own wrongdoings, like systematically labelling dissent and protest as ‘terrorism,’ arbitrary detentions, verdicts pronounced at the political level, ignoring European Court of Human Rights.”

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