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Erdogan revives spectre of death penalty in Turkey

Erdogan revives spectre of death penalty in Turkey




ISTANBUL: “What George, Hans or Helga say does not interest us!” roars Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “What counts for us is what Ayse, Murat, Mehmet, Hatice say! What Allah says!”

This mantra — setting common European names against Turkish ones and finally invoking God — has become Erdogan’s standard rhetoric to tell the European Union he does not care about their reaction if Turkey restores the death penalty.

But such a move would have immense ramifications — automatically drawing the curtain on the half-century drama that has been Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

Some analysts thought that Erdogan would drop his rhetoric on capital punishment, helpful for winning the support of nationalists, after the April 16 referendum on enhancing his powers.

But with the referendum won, albeit by a narrow margin and the opposition claiming fraud, Erdogan has vigorously returned to the topic.

After proclaiming victory, Erdogan promised thousands of supporters chanting “Idam!” (“Execution!”) that Turkey would hold a referendum on the issue if parliament failed to adopt it. European Parliament president Antonio Tajani wrote on Twitter that he was “very concerned” by Erdogan’s comments, saying the reintroduction would be a “red line” for the European Union.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the move would be “synonymous with the end of (Turkey’s) European dream”.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in all circumstances in 2004 — two years after Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power — as a key pillar of its bid to join the EU.

The EU states that abolishing the death penalty is an absolute pre-condition for membership. The Council of Europe, the rights watchdog to which Turkey has belonged since 1950, makes abolition a condition for new members and its Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland Thursday said bringing back the death penalty would spell the end for Turkey.

“It goes without saying that if you want to reintroduce (the) death penalty, you cannot be a member of the Council of Europe,” he said, adding the controversy appeared to be “much more political than a real legal thing.”

While it was a previous coalition led by the Democratic Left Party that initiated the move to abolish the death penalty, Erdogan had in the early years of his rule resisted nationalist pressure for it to be used.

This included the case of the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured in 1999. He was sentenced to death but had his term commuted to life imprisonment.—AFP



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