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Theresa talks Turkey

Our PM’s round of after-Brexit trade meetings kicked off in January with President Erdogan of Turkey, a man much in need of international admirers, not to mention international arms traders.

Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 1987, but has no imminent prospect of being admitted, mainly because of its appalling human rights record. In May 2016 the UN Committee Against Torture expressed serious concern about torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial killings in Turkey, and on December 2nd the UN Special Rapporteur said that torture had been widespread since July’s failed coup. In November the European Parliament suspended membership negotiations completely.

Others appear less principled. The Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member, was set up “to protect human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law”. It regularly reviews human rights violations amongst members, and was due to debate Turkey in January. Alas, its Assembly – composed of parliamentary MPs from its 47 countries – voted on January 23rd not to bother. Most NO voters were Turkey’s near neighbours, but they also included the five voting UK conservative MPs. What coincidence that 5 days later Mrs May signed a £100m fighter jet deal with her new pal!

Turkey claims it is a beacon of democracy. Numan Kurtulmuş, Deputy Prime Minister, came to Chatham House on November 25th (by which time Mr Erdogan had shut down over 160 radio and TV stations, newspapers and publishers, and announced his wish to reinstate the death penalty) to insist his country doesn’t compromise on civil liberties. He stuck so unwaveringly to reading out his power-point that one might have imagined that he was afraid to deviate, if that weren’t a ridiculous suggestion when his boss upholds such liberal values. Asked about torture his response remains on Chatham House’s website: “you cannot identify any torture in the prisons and detained facilities of Turkey.”

Human Rights organisations disagree. Freedom from Torture (FFT) received 75 new referrals from Turkey in 2015. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) saw 597 torture survivors in 2015, and 312 in 2016. They say torture has increased since July, and continues with impunity. HRFT’s President, torture expert Dr Sebnem Financi currently awaits trial under the anti terror act herself, for supporting press freedom. Human Rights Watch report that torture extends to children.

Turkish former detainees relate chillingly similar experiences. Usually Kurds, they describe being arrested, beaten, kicked and punched, electrocuted, burned, suffocated, sexually assaulted, humiliated, subjected to mock execution, then forced to agree to inform, or die. Prior to July, they were typically released on the third day. More recent detainees are less fortunate, since Erdogan has extended the maximum period of detention without charge from four days to a terrifying thirty. Thousands more are in pre-trial detention, including over 140 journalists and both leaders of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party.

Human Rights organisations, the EU and the UN take a dim view of Mr Erdogan’s version of democracy, yet it seems he is Mrs May’s new best friend. If this is the reward for buying aeroplanes, who might we hold hands with next?

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