AKP's view on fundamental rights
Stating that fundamental human rights and freedoms are ‘the achievement of humanity as a result of centuries-long struggles’ the AKP program indexes the indicator of being a civilised society to the level of these freedoms. It argues that freedoms are also the foundation of democracy. The program states that ‘the most significant element of trust in a society is the belief of the individuals living in it that their rights and freedoms are respected’ and that this respect ensures the adoption of the democratic regime by the society and the protection of social peace.
In the field of fundamental rights, the party promises that ‘the standards of international conventions to which Turkey is a party, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Paris Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, will be implemented.’ It promises that the views of civil society will be taken into account, that the freedoms of the press, thought, and expression will be built based on international standards, and that secularism will not be interpreted as hostility to religion. While emphasising the sensitivities of religious people, it states that religion cannot be an instrument of pressure on people who have different lifestyles.
It is claimed that freedom to seek rights and the right to a fair trial will be ensured, a transparent environment will be created on issues such as torture and disappearances, and the rights and freedoms of women, children, and labour will be based on international standards. With all these, it is stated that trust in state institutions will increase.
Problems in practice
It would not be wrong to say that how fundamental rights are addressed in the AKP's program contradicts its power practices. In 2002, the AKP, which came to power on its own by adopting a ‘conservative democratic’ line and with the support of liberals, promised to fight against the ‘3Ys’; prohibitions (yasaklar), poverty (yoksulluk), and corruption (yolsuzluk). The AKP government's approach to fundamental rights, which at the time was seen by some as libertarian as an anti-thesis of the 28 February period, while others argued that it has always had a prohibitionist mentality, changed significantly after the Gezi protests in 2013. The reformist Human Rights Action Plan announced in March 2021 with the vision of ‘a free individual, a strong society, a more democratic Turkey’ which also emphasises the rule of law, was not implemented.
It can be argued that the biggest apparent contradiction today is the non-implementation of some ECtHR judgments, despite the program stating that ECtHR standards would be respected. The ECHR's rulings on the release of businessperson Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned for more than five years, and former HDP co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been imprisoned for more than six years, are not being implemented. These people, whom government officials accuse in the strongest possible terms, are being held in prison on different indictments designed to circumvent the ECtHR judgments. These cases are cited as clear examples of the destruction of judicial independence. It is said that Turkey could be expelled from the Council of Europe as a result of the violation process initiated under the AKP's rule.
It is also assessed that the AKP, which does not establish regular relations with civil initiatives other than civil society organisations that include people associated with the party, restricts freedom of expression and freedom of information through the recently enacted disinformation law, also known as the ‘censorship law.’ Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Although it is stated that ‘religion cannot be an element of oppression,’ the demands of LGBTQIA+ persons are ignored on the grounds of religious sensitivities. Although it is stated that ‘the government will be transparent on issues such as torture and disappearances,’ the Saturday Mothers, who have been searching for their missing children since the 1980s, are not allowed to protest. Moreover, President Erdoğan met with the Saturday Mothers when he was prime minister in 2011.
Despite the promises of working life, the report of the Worker's Health and Safety Assembly shows that the number of workers who lost their lives in occupational homicides in the first nine months of 2022 reached 1359.
The determination in the party program that the state's approach to fundamental rights is directly related to society's trust in institutions is quite reasonable. On the other hand, regular surveys conducted by research companies show that trust in public institutions, except the Turkish Armed Forces, is gradually decreasing. In other words, the AKP's program confirms that the government's approach to fundamental rights is contrary to what was promised.
Although I have sent the following three questions to different AKP officials and committees regarding the contradictions between the text of the program and its implementation, I have not received any responses. I would like to state that if the party sends answers to these questions, we will publish them as they are.
The AKP program defines human rights as a ‘prerequisite for democracy.’ On the other hand, opposition circles criticise the AKP for indexing democracy to the ‘ballot box’ and ignoring the basic principles of democracy other than voting. Similarly, the program states that ‘Freedom of thought and expression will be built based on international standards, opinions will be freely expressed and differences will be seen as a richness.’ On the other hand, it is criticised that the disinformation law charging the offense of ‘disseminating misleading information’ with imprisonment and the fact that the judiciary will decide what constitutes misleading information restricts freedom of expression. How would you respond to these criticisms on this example or a principal level?
The party program states, ‘The standards in the field of human rights set by international conventions to which Turkey is a party, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Paris Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, will be put into practice.’
As you know, the European Convention on Human Rights establishes the supervisory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey has been criticised in Europe for not complying with the ECtHR judgments in Kavala and Demirtaş cases. How would you respond to these criticisms?
Your party program states that ‘The opinions and suggestions of voluntary and non-governmental organisations active in the field of human rights will be taken into consideration, and close cooperation will be established between state organs and these organisations.’ Can you explain the steps taken in this field?
MHP's view on fundamental rights
The MHP states in its program that ‘every human being has rights and
freedoms arising from being a human being’ and assigns to the state the duty of ‘protecting and developing the inviolable, inalienable fundamental rights and freedoms of human beings, especially the right to life.’
The MHP program defines fundamental rights as the inviolability of the person, freedom of thought and opinion, freedom to seek rights and equality before the law, privacy and inviolability of private life, freedom of religion and conscience, right to education and training, right to organisation, right to organise meetings and demonstrations, rights of women and children, freedom of the press and press ethics.
On the other hand, the program justifies restrictions on fundamental rights, arguing that such restrictions can only be imposed ‘provided that they do not pose a threat to national security, the fundamental characteristics of the Republic, the indivisible integrity of the state with its country and nation, public order, public morality, public health and the exercise of fundamental rights by others.’
Restricting rights with vague definitions
The MHP stands out as the party whose program overlaps most with the implementation of the People's Alliance on fundamental rights. While emphasizing the importance of fundamental rights, it both defines a duty for the state and argues that even the most basic rights can be restricted when necessary, just like today. On the other hand, restricting fundamental rights with concepts such as "public morality and public order", the legal definition of which can vary from person to person, paves the way for authoritarianism. Moreover, it foments revengeful feelings among social groups whose rights are currently being restricted.
Discourse contradicting the program
In its program, the BBP, unlike the MHP, has a libertarian perspective on fundamental rights, just like the AKP. However, the critical language used in the program is not reflected in daily politics. The party maintains its support for the People's Alliance instead of criticising the AKP's practices restricting fundamental rights, which contradict its program, from a libertarian perspective. In addition, the party's conservative stance on social issues also reduces the credibility of its libertarianism on fundamental rights.
For example, party leader Mustafa Destici said in 2016 about the LGBTQIA+ Pride March, ‘Let them go and march wherever they want, they cannot march in my hometown. My hometown cannot be portrayed as a country of perverts.’ His words contradict the party's criticism of the restriction of the right to assembly, demonstration, and march, and overlap with prohibitionist practices.