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How democracy failed to survive in aftermath of Turkey coup attempt

Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
Mohammad Behzad FatmiJul 26, 2016 | 09:30

How democracy failed to survive in aftermath of Turkey coup attempt

The failed military coup attempt in Turkey has been widely hailed as a triumph of democracy. The courage that thousands of Turks have shown to thwart an effort by a section of armed forces to oust a democratically-elected government and president is commendable.

It is true that both the Turkish government and the president are democratically elected, and they must not be removed by undemocratic means.

But has their protection protected the democratic values in the country? The answer is a big NO.

Not to suggest that the situation would have been better otherwise, but there is hardly any doubt that their survival has further deteriorated democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country.

In order to put things in perspective let me produce some figures which is relevant to the whole argument: 15,200 education ministry staff, 8,000 policemen, 3,000 judges, 3,500 soldiers, and 100 generals and admirals have been sacked or detained within a few days on charges of plotting the coup.

The swiftness in action and the scale of operation against these high ranking officials smack of something insidious.

It must be asked that if the government is competent enough to identify such a large number of coup-plotters within days, how did it have no idea, whatsoever of their planning?

Or if the government knew that these officials are planning a coup, why did it not take any action before they moved to execute their plan?

Notably, this is not the first time the Turkish government is purging officials from their positions. Over the past three years, thousands of policemen, prosecutors, judges and other state officials have been relieved of their duties and arrested on charges of being a member or sympathiser of what the government calls "parallel state" (the name it has given to the Gulen movement).

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Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. (Reuters) 

From Istanbul police chief to a low-ranking officer in the remote southeast, from the members of the Constitutional Court to the staff of the state media regulator Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), from democratic academicians to leftist journalists, from the European Parliament Turkey rapporteur to the Kurdish rights activists, and so on have all been accused of cooperating with the so-called "parallel state" to overthrow the government.

Twenty independent news websites have also been shut down by the government in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt. This too is not unparalleled in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's history.

The government has banned dozens of online portals, including social media websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube multiple times previously.

In other words, almost all those institutions, establishments and professionals who keep a check on the power of the executive were already being targeted and their independence had long been substantially eroded.

Now with this failed coup attempt, the Turkish government is trying to further muzzle the opposing voices in the country.

Apart from these totally undemocratic and regressive yet precedented practises, the government has adopted some measures this time that are unparalleled even in its authoritarian history.

A blanket ban on all academicians from travelling abroad has been implemented, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been suspended and a nationwide emergency has been declared.

Following the declaration of state of Emergency which has given the power to government to rule by decree, 15 universities, 934 schools, 104 foundations, 109 dormitories, 35 hospitals, 1,125 associations and 19 unions have been shut down.

The government is also mulling to reintroduce death penalty in the country. It was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Additionally, as the government has accused the Gulen movement for plotting this coup attempt, hate crimes against the movement has skyrocketed.

The properties of the sympathisers of the Gulen movement have been vandalised, a school belonging to the movement has been set on fire, and many restaurants have displayed banners reading "parallel state" sympathisers are not allowed to enter.

All of these are happening despite the fact that the leader of the movement, Fethullah Gulen has unequivocally condemned the coup attempt and strongly rejected government's accusation. The government has produced no hard evidence yet to corroborate its allegations.

Gulen is a Turkish Islamic scholar living in the US since 1999. His teachings and ideas have inspired a worldwide network of schools, charity organisations and dialogue foundations.

The Turkish government started to openly target him and his sympathisers since a huge corruption scandal implicating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's inner circle became public in 2013.

The government had then accused Gulen supporters in the judiciary and police of attempting a "judicial coup" and now it is accusing them of attempting a military coup. However, in both the cases the government's allegations have hardly stood scrutiny.

Given what Erdogan's civilian government is doing in Turkey following the botched coup attempt it is clear, that the situation in the country isn't any better than what it would have been had the attempted coup succeed.

What has survived in Turkey is a deeply authoritarian government, not democratic values.

Last updated: July 28, 2016 | 14:50
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