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Turkey boycotts European human rights conference over NGO participation

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Turkey is the only country boycotting this year’s Human Dimensions Implementation Meeting (HDIM), Europe’s largest human rights conference sponsored by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) because it was not allowed to prevent the participation of a nongovernmental organization, according to a report by online news outlet Ahval.

HDIM conferences are organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and are open to the 57 OSCE participating states as well as civil society organizations and other relevant actors. This year’s conference takes place from Sept. 10-21 in Warsaw.

The Turkish delegation walked out of last year’s meeting to protest the participation of the New York-based Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), which the Turkish representatives claimed was a “terrorist organization” due to its links to the Gülen movement.

Since the 2017 HDIM, Turkey has continued to protest the JWF’s involvement in the conference and drew criticism from other participants because of its insistence on the right to veto nongovernmental organization participation.

“Turkey’s attempt to limit civil society participation at the OSCE rejects its commitment to promoting freedom as a NATO ally,” journalist Emily Tamkin quoted US Senator Roger Wicker as saying in a piece published by Foreign Policy in April.

A December 2017 report by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the US Helsinki Commission, cited “[resorting] to the use of violence or publicly [condoning] terrorism or the use of violence” as “the only grounds for excluding an NGO from a meeting where civil society is welcome.”

However, the commission warned that this definition was far from clear-cut. “[One] participating State may choose to describe an individual or group as ‘terrorist.’ However, broad extremism laws and lack of an independent judiciary or record of due process in that nation could make such unilateral declarations meaningless to other states, especially in the absence of any evidence of such dubious designations,” the commission’s report said.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

(Turkish Minute with Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF])

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