European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) President, Robert Spano, urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respect the rule of law and comply with court rulings on political opponents and jailed figures.
Spano’s visit came despite fears it would provide an air of legitimacy to Turkey’s crackdown on media, and other freedoms. According to ECHR’s statement, Spano stressed to President Erdogan “the importance of the rule of law, democracy, and in particular the need to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression.”
“Turkey was under a clear obligation to comply with court rulings, because it was a party to the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said. The ECHR ranked Turkey second, after Russia, on its list of countries with the highest human rights violations recorded in 2019.
This week, President Erdogan accused the bar of turning into a “backyard of terror groups”, for unfurling a banner in remembrance of lawyer Ebru Timtik, 42, who died in an Istanbul hospital. She passed away after a 238-day hunger strike, following her conviction last year for membership in a “terrorist organisation”. Turkey is often chastised by human rights’ advocates for arresting journalists, civil-society leaders, and opposition politicians.
President Erdogan’s government has also tightened control of the internet, including access to social media. It has in the past few years shut down television stations and critical outlets. A total of 92 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, the P24 press freedom group claimed.
The government has additionally jailed tens of thousands of people, and sacked more than 100,000 from their state jobs. This is part of a nationwide crackdown that followed a failed coup against President Erdogan in 2016. Critics said the goal of these arrests was an attempt to silence dissent in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Journalist Mehmet Altan, an economics professor who spent almost two years in prison over alleged links to the failed coup, criticized Spano’s visit in an open letter, calling it ill-timed. Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch lashed out at Spano for accepting an honorary doctorate in law from Istanbul University, which “summarily dismissed scores of academics – among them Mehmet Altan, in an unlawful way. Think again Judge Spano,” she tweeted.
Turkey’s Human Rights Association called on Spano to also meet civil-society groups, saying: “A visit to Turkey under such circumstances, solely addressing state institutions, may mean you condone all that has been happening.”
Spano met President Erdogan and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. In his speech, Spano noted the detention, and conviction of former Turkish judge, Alparslan Altan.