Turkey: Human Rights and the Political Situation — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:02 pm on 9th March 2017.

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Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir SNP Chief Whip 4:02 pm, 9th March 2017

Nobody is arguing with that—the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right—but it is part of how we should approach human rights worldwide. We should not be part of supplying arms to regimes that may use them in such a way. It is about considering human rights under the regimes that we are dealing with.

The present situation in the country probably goes back well before the attempted coup in July, but the state of emergency imposed then and most recently renewed in January means that many of the normal functions of the constitution are suspended, resulting in derogations from the European convention on human rights. Since the coup, the Government have conducted a widespread campaign of media clampdowns, arrests and dismissals. More than 40,000 people have been imprisoned; more than 120,000 police, prosecutors, judges, civil servants and academics have been dismissed. It is an attack on civil society by a Government almost unprecedented in modern times, despite the fact that most in Turkey were probably opposed to the attempted military coup, as the right hon. Lady pointed out in her introduction to this debate.

Ten MPs from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party, including its two co-leaders, were imprisoned after Parliament voted to remove legal immunity from dozens of MPs in May 2016. The Government accuse the party to having links to the Kurdistan Workers party or PKK, although that is strongly denied and there is no independent evidence. Indeed, the strong suspicion remains that it is being used as an excuse to dismantle domestic opposition to the present Government. Human Rights Watch says:

“Instead of building on the cross-party unity opposed to the coup to strengthen democracy, Turkey’s Government has opted for a ruthless crackdown on critics and opponents”.

In April, a plebiscite will be held to enhance significantly the powers of the President. The Government are conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign in its favour, while the current crackdown clearly impedes opponents’ ability to campaign against it. Despite that, before the Government banned opinion polls, they showed that 45% opposed the changes while 35% supported them, suggesting that even in these difficult times, the flame of democracy remains alive in the country, as is also shown by the reaction to the coup.

We unreservedly condemn attempts such as the failed coup to overthrow democracy, but equally, we condemn any response that does not respect human rights or the rule of law, and the current Government in Turkey have clearly used the coup to target their democratic opponents. In that respect, it is also imperative that we uphold and strengthen the European convention on human rights, yet I observe in passing that some of the things that this Government say about the European convention are not helpful in pushing it in other nations that are going much further than I hope our Government would ever dream of going.

We must lead by example and show unequivocally that we support the ECHR, and we must urge Turkey to do likewise and to approach the Kurdish issue—on which my hon. Friend Natalie McGarry went into in greater detail in her fantastic speech—not with repression but by talking to those, such as the Peoples’ Democratic party, who seek a peaceful solution in Turkey: not independence, but home rule. It is a reasonable position, and one with which the Government should work, rather than continuing the oppression from which the Kurds in that region of Turkey have suffered for so long.