Dear President Robert Spano,
I have learned through the news media of your upcoming visit to Turkey on 3-4 September 2020 with the agenda of receiving an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University on September 3rd and teaching a class at the Turkish Academy of Justice in Ankara on September 4th.
As has been frequently noted by numerous international observers, including first and foremost various Council of Europe bodies, there has been a continuous and systematic deterioration in the field of human rights in Turkey in recent years. The Venice Commission, the Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe have reported how the government of Turkey has been blatantly disregarding the principles upon which the Council and the European Court of Human Rights were built. Systematic violations recorded in these reports involve an extensive array of rights ranging from arbitrary arrests to the deposition and replacement of elected local administrators by government-appointed trustees, from Internet censorship to vaguely worded anti-terrorism legislations, from curfews to breaches of judicial impartiality.
Dear Mr. President,
Holding back my criticism that the ECtHR’s reaction to these grave violations has been slow and ineffective, I would like to remind you that the Court itself has had numerous rulings in various critical issues that show the presence of an entrenched problem of the rule of law in Turkey. Among the case files that generated these rulings are those submitted by leaders of the political opposition such as the former HDP Co-chair Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş, journalists such as Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, civil society activists such as Osman Kavala and purged judges such as Alparslan Arslan. In the cases of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala, the Court ruled that Article 18 of the Convention was violated, noting the tutelage of the executive over the judiciary. The events that led to these rulings render blatantly clear the problems regarding the rule of law and human rights in Turkey.
Dear Mr. President,
Besides this general picture of Turkey that I have briefly described, I feel obliged to write to you due to the responsibilities I assume under my two titles. I am, like yourself, a professor of law who, before entering into politics, had lectured and studied in the field of public law and human rights for thirty years.
As you may know, following the abortive military coup of 15 July 2016 in Turkey, and alongside many other public officers, thousands of academics were purged without the right of defense, banned from public service for life, and left for a civil death by means of state of emergency government decrees. A significant number of those purged applied to the ECtHR, and yet the Court found ineligible 27,000 of these applications by pointing to the existence of the Inquiry Commission on State of Emergency Measures that was established by the government. The Academics for Peace, with many of whom I worked closely, were also among those purged after the coup attempt. The Inquiry Commission, deemed as an effective domestic remedy, has not yet issued a single verdict on the Academics for Peace cases despite the four years that have passed since then. Istanbul University, from where you will reportedly receive an honorary doctorate, is one of the universities that prepared the list of academics to be purged. Whereas the Inquiry Commission, which the ECtHR has considered to be an effective legal remedy, has clearly failed to restore justice, I believe that your acceptance of an honorary doctorate from an institution that acted as a perpetrator of this violation shall but mean an affirmation of this injustice.
Dear Mr. President,
Finally, I would like to address you with my political identity. The political party that I currently co-chair has been one of the main targets of the picture of repression that I have briefly drawn above. Immunities of fifty-one deputies, including myself, were arbitrarily lifted. Fifteen deputies, including my predecessor party co-chairs, were jailed in different times and some of them were later convicted. Thousands of our party members and administrators, including our mayors and local councillors, have faced arbitrary detentions and arrests. There are numerous cases pending at the ECtHR regarding these repressive practices, including my own case, and, notably, the case of our former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş at the Grand Chamber.
The systematic attacks on the HDP constitute a violation of Article 18 of the Convention, as ruled by the Second Chamber of the Court in the Selahattin Demirtaş vs. Turkey case. The ECtHR was established to protect the founding principles of the Council of Europe; namely, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. In your upcoming meetings with public authorities during your visit in Turkey, you will either communicate the message that as the president of the ECtHR you are the protector of these values, or you will ignore, and thus affirm, the actions of a member state that totally disregards these values in a systematic manner.
In light of all these facts, I would like to suggest that you reconsider your decision to accept the honorary doctorate. And I hope that you will take a position in support of human rights and freedoms, in accordance with the principles of the Council of Europe and the ECtHR.
Professor Mithat Sancar
3 September 2020