Turkey bans alcohol sales during full lockdown, thousands question government's motive

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has confirmed the ban on alcohol sales during the upcoming 17-day COVID-19 lockdown. The government's move has prompted outrage nationwide with legal experts agreeing on the practice's illegality and social media users rallying with the remarks of "Don't touch my alcohol."

Duvar English

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has confirmed the ban on alcohol sales during the upcoming 17-day COVID-19 lockdown. 

"They [Enterprises that sell alcohol] are not included in the exception list and therefore will be closed. No exemption has been made to them," Soylu said on April 27 during a videoconference with governors of 81 provinces. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s move has prompted outrage nationwide, with legal experts saying the regulation was illegal, and social media users promoting the hashtag of "Don't touch my alcohol."

Soylu's comments came after reports earlier in the day suggested the ban, citing Interior Ministry officials. The ministry's decree dated April 26 had not included any information about the topic. 

Reporter İsmail Saymaz shared a video on April 27 showing a sign being hung up at a grocery store that read "Dear customers, the sale of alcoholic beverages will cease between April 30 and May 17 in compliance with ministry regulations."

Presidency reporter for broadcaster NTV, Serkan Kaya also reported that alcohol sales would stop between April 30 and May 17. 

The government's delay in releasing an official statement with regards to the issue caused misinformation to spread earlier in the day. 

Turkey's Liquor Stores Platform Founder Özgür Aybaş tweeted at 1 a.m. on April 27 that the businesses would remain open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Some 11 hours later, Aybaş released a second statement on his Twitter where he said that he was "sorry to inform" his followers that "alcohol sales were banned nationwide under the excuse of the pandemic and Ramadan."

"This is a coup on private life, on the culture. of dining. Coronavirus is the excuse," Aybaş said. 

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) MP Veli Ağbaba said the ban has nothing to with the pandemic, calling it "ideological."

"This an has nothing to do with the pandemic, it is completely ideological. It is the last straw in the AKP's intervention in the people's lifestyle and not in the pandemic," Ağbaba wrote on his Twitter account. 

Meanwhile, social media users started a campaign using the hashtag "Don't touch my alcohol" in Turkish, with more than 36,000 people commenting on the issue within hours of the hashtag's creation.

Many users commented that the government was using the pandemic as an excuse to impose their agenda, and some even saying that this was the start of sharia law in the country. 

Legal experts agree 'ban is illegal'

Legal experts have agreed that there is no legal foundation for the ban on alcohol sales, and that the practice is illegal, online news outlet T24 reported on April 27. 

"[Alcohol] has no connection to the pandemic like wearing masks. It can't encourage socialization, there will be a lockdown. This is not a legal decision," said legal expert Prof. Ali Ulusoy.

The legal foundation of the ban on alcohol sales can't be evaluated within a public safety context, Ulusoy noted, adding that it's interfering with people's lifestyles. 

"This is directly limiting to basic rights and freedoms."

Legal expert Prof. Turgut Tarhanlı said in a tweet that the government was legally mandated to provide a clear public safety benefit and a cause behind every administrative decision, asking about the connection between alcohol and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ankara first started bans on alcohol sales in December as part of COVID-19 restrictions, some nine months after the pandemic first emerged in the country in March.