London, 7 Oct. 2018 – It might sound to Turkish people like a democratic move the announcement of a possible referendum to decide whether the country should go ahead with its EU membership application. By behaving like other EU leaders, Erdogan is not only looking for legitimacy domestically, but also abroad, as giving people their say could appease the growing widespread concerns about human rights violations. A referendum for Ankara could be that political mean hiding its regime behind the mask of democracy, likening Turkey to an European country such as the UK, where citizens are decision makers.
It would be hard, by the way, to hide the differences between the two countries: Turkey holds a tragic Human Rights breaches record.
1) Turkey held at least 78.000 people in jail along with 130 journalists, as a result of the mass arrests during the state of emergency in place since July 2016, the highest number of pretrial arrests in any country in the world. In the same year over 110.000 civil servants were dismissed and 40.000 were reinstated of which some 3.600 by decree. In comparison the 4.000 arrests with no trial after UK riots in 2011 looks like misdemeanors.
2) Courts of Justice have a limited independence from the government; there’s not full respect of the basic principle of separation of powers: the introduction of the the Constitutional amendments governing the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP) undermined Courts independence from the president’s executive.
Britain is, instead, a great democracy teaching the world what justice means and how Courts of justice work. Apart from the restriction to access to justice as a consequence of cuts to CABs (citizens advice bureaus) and legal aid, plus the introduction of a tax on employment tribunals claims which made justice unaffordable to million of people.
3) Under Erdogan’s regime hundreds of media have been closed or put under government’s control: political critics and opposers are labelled as enemies of the country in the name of the war against terrorism. The Internet Law and the general legal framework allows the government to block and remove online content without a court order (the EU Council reports).
British government, instead, enhanced from 2010 a more effective system to block political critics: the mass surveillance system is able to prevent independent political defectors from accessing established media outlets and platforms. The system, justified by the UK as necessary measure to fight terrorists, has been ruled as in breach of Human Rights law but the ECtHR only few weeks ago; therefore we can still consider Great Britain a democracy.
4) Turkey does not guarantee the rights of minorities: gender-based violence, discrimination and hate speech against ethnic minorities and LGBTI persons are widespread. In the UK, instead, LGBTI rights, gender equality, ethnic minorities rights to work, housing healthcare are guaranteed basic rights. That’s why black minorities mainly from Commonwealth countries have been secretly deported for years and homeless EU citizens put in detention centres. (Until the ECtHR intervened)
In conclusion an EU referendum might help Erdogan’s regime to be perceived as making steps forward towards a democratic system by using the same political means as the UK. But still Turkey has much to learn from a Western European democracy such as Britain.
Violent repression, arbitrary arrests, shut down of media and blocking Internet, imprisonment of regime critics, repression of minorities and other blatant violations of Human Rights are not the right way to achieve a reckoned democracy status: Turkey lacks of style. Look at Great Britain: there’s no need to block internet contents to prevent ideas circulation and isolate new generations; it is enough to impose million pounds university tuition fees and allow skyrocketing rents: it’s faster and invisible, it does not affect the country reputation.
For the media same thing: Turkey must ‘acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness‘, that British style universally respected: never shut down media, just buy them through taycoons able to divert public attention from real issues and destroy circulation of ideas; look at the Sun, the Express, the Daily Mail…these lead by example of attainments a country has to achieve to be eligible to enter the Club of democracies (until EU and the Courts of Justice intervene).