Opposition asks gov't if Demirtaş, Kavala will be released with new 'action plan'

Turkey's opposition and activists have questioned the government's sincerity in drafting a human rights action plan, saying the plan would not have any meaning unless it is put into implementation through the release of political prisoners, such as philanthropist Osman Kavala and renowned Kurdish politician Selahatin Demirtaş.

This collage photo shows Demirtaş (L) and Kavala.

Duvar English

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy from Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and a prominent human rights activist, has said that the government's new "Human Rights Action Plan" is an acknowledgment that it has been violating human rights.

“This document is an acknowledgment that there are violations with regards to these issues, which we have been severely pointing out. There are no human rights in Turkey, no rule of law, and the judiciary is neither unbiased and independent. Therefore Turkey is not receiving any money from EU institutions or foreign investors,” Tanrıkulu said in remarks on MST TV on March 2.

“Turkish investors themselves are running away from this environment in Turkey. And now we are apologizing for what we have done. This is the Turkish explanation of this document,” he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on March 2 his government would strengthen rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression in Turkey under an "action plan" that critics said failed to address real concerns about an erosion of human rights.

Part of long-promised moves towards legal and economic reform, the plan would also improve the judicial system and form the first step towards a new constitution, he said.

Erdoğan however did not mention any measures to tackle the issues of arbitrary detentions, prosecutions and convictions despite Turkey being a country in which thousands of people are jailed on bogus terrorism charges.

Tanrıkulu asked if this new action plan will lead to the release of high-profile philanthropist Osman Kavala, jailed more than three years without conviction, and Selahattin Demirtaş, former leader of Turkey's third-largest party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).

Tanrıkulu said that the document would not mean anything unless it is put into implementation. “You are saying with this document that European Court of Human Rights decisions are binding and that Constitutional Court rulings will be taken into account by judges. Then will Selahattin Demirtaş be released tomorrow? Will you comply with ECHR rulings and will Osman Kavala be released tomorrow?” Tanrıkulu asked.

Turkey has ignored the ECHR's rulings on Kavala and Demirtaş, although they are legally binding. The court says such detentions violate human rights and only serve to limit pluralism and political debate.

Tanrıkulu also said that the government has received a funding of 1.3 million Turkish Liras from the European Union to prepare this reform plan. “We cannot even prepare the Human Rights Action Plan with our own money,” he said.

Commitments outlined in plan are 'rediscovery of Constitution 

CHP MP Ünal Çeviköz said that the commitments outlined in the government's plan are already in the Constitution. “The Human Rights Action Plan is like the rediscovery of the Turkish Constitution. Yet, this is also a progress. We will continue to protect our Constitution, as has been the case until now,” Çeviköz wrote on Twitter.

The Human Rights Association (İHD) has similarly asked if the release of Demirtaş and Kavala is imminent or not with the government's action plan. 

“[With this action plan] Will decisions on Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala be implemented or not?” İHD co-chair Öztürk Türkdoğan asked, saying the government would prove its “will to hold reforms” with the implementation of these decisions.

“If these decisions will not be implemented, we are looking at a situation which does not go beyond a mere modification which would correct some damaged things,” he told Gazete Duvar.

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) president Metin Bakkalcı also commented on the plan, saying that government should have instead addressed the misuse of laws.

“The current atmosphere does not prevent authorities from arbitrarily detaining people, exposing them to long-time arrests and refraining them from their rights to hold meetings and protests,” Bakkalcı told Gazete Duvar.

“There are a lot of problems with regards to rights to assembly and demonstration, or the use of power by police. There is no need for special action plans for these. If there is sincerity, legal regulations can be brought up in a very short period of time, and these laws can be put in order in a way that respect human rights,” he said.