Democracy and Human Rights Concerns in Turkey


Peter Khalil: I wish to speak of my deep concern over the dissolution of democracy and human rights we are witnessing in Turkey today. Turkey has been, throughout most of the 20th century, a beacon of modernity in a very difficult and dangerous region. We as Australians are bound to Turkey by our shared history. Of course, the eternal words of Kemal Ataturk still ring true today, I think, as they did almost a century ago, when he said of the fallen Anzacs:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Of course, many Turks migrated to this country to begin a life on the soil of our very friendly country. These Turkish Australians have made an enormous contribution to Australia in all fields, but they still retain a great pride in their ancestral homeland. That is why so many of them are so concerned, as am I, by the more than 80,000 people who have been arbitrarily detained by the government. About half of those detained are still in prison. Among those detained are 13 members from Turkey’s third-largest political party, the HDP, who gained 59 seats with over five million votes in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. In addition to the arrests of MPs, there are over 30 elected ethnic Kurdish mayors now in prison and another 70 mayors who have been dismissed by the central government.

The free Turkish media have also been a target of the Erdogan government. In July 2016 alone, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers were ordered to shut down. Many journalists have lost their jobs or have been arrested. In December 2016 the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual report of journalists imprisoned worldwide. The report listed Turkey first, with more journalists imprisoned than in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Russia combined.

There has also been a purge of over 150,000 public servants, mostly in the education sector. In March this year, Professor Nuriye Gulmen and schoolteacher Semih Ozakca, both victims of the purge, started protesting by going on a hunger strike. On 22 May, the 76th day of their hunger strike, with their health deteriorating rapidly, the Turkish police arrested and detained them.

The crackdown on politicians, journalists and academics in Turkey is a deeply alarming situation. The Turkish government’s crackdown on civil rights, freedom and democracy cannot be ignored. I call on the Australian government to make direct representation to the Turkish government, imploring them to ensure that democracy and democratic principles within Turkey are upheld and protected and to release all politicians, journalists and academics who have been arbitrarily detained without proper trial.