ECtHR condemns Turkey over post-coup arrests of judges

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday ruled that Turkey had acted unlawfully by arresting more than 400 judges and prosecutors after a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Agence France-Presse reported.

Responding to a complaint brought by 427 members of the Turkish judiciary who were arrested after the failed putsch, the court said their detentions were marked by “unlawfulness” and ordered Ankara to pay 5,000 euros in damages to each applicant.

They had been arrested as part of a mass crackdown on supporters of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who the president blamed for the coup bid.

The ruling is the latest by the Strasbourg-based ECtHR against Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe of which the court is a part since 1950.

It said the detentions had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court enforces, “on account of the unlawfulness of the initial pre-trial detention of the applicants.”

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Dr. Gökhan Güneş, a human rights activist and an expert on international criminal law, tweeted that the ECtHR decision was “historic,” saying the court’s Tuesday decision was the first time it had ruled on rights violations for so many people in a single file.

Opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) deputy chairman Mustafa Yeneroğlu, who commented on the ECtHR ruling on Tuesday, tweeted that the court’s ruling not only reveals that serious rights violations are taking place in Turkey but also shows how even fundamental rights are being destroyed.

“Although the ECtHR ruling exposes the unlawfulness suffered, there is unfortunately no remedy to compensate for the suffering of the people,” Yeneroğlu said, adding that the court’s ruling is just the “tip of the iceberg” of the rights violations in the country.

“Turkey will bear the consequences of the injustices suffered by its people,” the politician said, hinting that many rights violations rulings are likely to come from the court regarding purge victims.

President Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members, and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown. Many have tried to exit Turkey illegally since the government has revoked thousands of passports.

The court has previously in separate rulings ordered Turkey to free jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and civil society leader Osman Kavala, who were arrested in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The Council of Europe’s committee of ministers has said Turkey’s defiance of the ECtHR ruling on Kavala could lead it to open infringement proceedings against Ankara at its next meeting beginning later this month, a procedure that as only been used once before in the history of the court.

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