Turkey to reinstate death penalty?

A recent statement of the Prime Minister of Turkey on the return of death penalty incited a heated debate among human rights organizations. This reform may block Turkey's path to the European Union, as the countries of Europe have long banned death penalty. Will the results of the reform be justified, or will they only exacerbate the country's situation on the world stage?
The international community was taken by surprise when on November 14 Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a proposal to reinstate death penalty in the country that was banned in 2002 due to the internal domestic policy reforms designed to prepare the country for joining the European Union.

The Prime Minister told reporters that not all major world powers have abolished death penalty. He noted that this form of punishment is abolished in Europe, however, neither the U.S. nor China or Japan are willing to replace death penalty with life imprisonment - hence, there must be good reasons for these major world powers to not ban death penalty.

In his speech, Erdogan stressed that he was surprised with the excessively mild decision of the court that sentenced notorious Anders Breivik, who killed over 77 people, to 21 years in prison. The Turkish Prime Minister said this decision is unreasonable.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan made this statement because of the constantly increasing number of victims of clashes between the Working Party and the army of the country. Incidentally, the Prime Minister wants to revise the case of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was previously sentenced to capital punishment, but the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment.
Modern society preaches the principle of humanity, and death penalty is a relic of the past, unfit for the contemporary system of justice. In Europe, death penalty has long been abolished, and many world powers are trying to ban it, but one way or another, many advanced countries have yet to abandon capital punishment. Only in 2011, 18 thousand people in the world were sentenced to death. In fact, only 95 countries in the world completely abolished death penalty, while 58 countries believe this form of punishment is acceptable. Only 25 of them use this sentence for very serious criminals.
According to Amnesty International, to date the majority of the people get sentenced to death in China, Japan, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. 

The Turkish government abolished this form of punishment in 2002 in preparation for accession to the European Union. All countries of the EU abandoned it, both on moral and ethical standards and from a policy perspective. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for death penalty only for persons who committed very serious crimes, however, with some amendments that do not allow death sentence for persons under 18 years of age and pregnant women. 

The concept of violent crime is very vague. For example, in the U.S. death penalty is legalized in 33 states. Amnesty International noted that the United States condemns criminals to death too often, which adversely affects the global status of the country.

Most likely, after the introduction of death penalty in Turkey the doors of the European Union will be closed for this country. At the request of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a decade ago death sentence was replaced with life imprisonment without parole. This reform was implemented under strong pressure from Brussels, as head of the EU was seriously worried that Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan would be killed, but death penalty sentence handed down to him in 1999 was later replaced with life imprisonment.

The legalization of death penalty in the country would exacerbate the already tense relations between Turkey and the EU as it would violate one of the basic conditions for the entry into the uniona.

Currently, Turkey is suffering from internal strife between Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish army. The war was caused by the desire of PKK to create a separate Kurdish state, independent of the Turkish authorities. Commenting on the recent terrorist attacks whose victims were the representatives of the Turkish army, the Prime Minister said that there was a need to reinstate death penalty for terrorists. Since the beginning of this year 110 Turkish soldiers were killed by PKK rebels.

According to analysts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkey, this policy is supported by the majority of the citizens. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seriously considering presidency in 2014, and analysts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs believe that these measures applied to terrorists will further strengthen his position.

Europe had quite a negative reaction to the statement of the Turkish Prime Minister. According to Todays Zaman, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, European Parliament Rapporteur on Turkey, said that the abolition of death penalty was a mandatory condition for any country in the European Union, and there can be no exceptions for anyone. She also said that Turkey is obliged to comply with its obligations as the country that previously signed the Convention on Human Rights. Today Zaman reported that Hannes Swoboda, head of the Socialists in the European Parliament, had a very negative reaction to the statement of the Prime Minister of Turkey, describing his words as provocative and outrageous. According to him, Recep Tayyip Erdogan should prioritize either the development of relations with Europe, or increased radicalization in the country as there will be no compromise. He also officially stated that Turkey's possible membership in the European Union is now under threat.

The strong statement of the Prime Minister of Turkey provoked heated debate among members of human rights organizations. Despite the amendment that states that death penalty will only be applied to people who commit crimes of terrorism and mass murder, Stefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, said that one of the main objectives of the EU is global abolition of death penalty and there will be no exceptions. 

Some observers argue that perhaps the statement by the Prime Minister of Turkey on the return of death penalty  was only a political trick aimed to divert the attention of the international community from the hunger strike announced by members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party  and Turkish prisoners more than two months ago. The strikers are demanding better conditions for their leader Abdullah Ocalan. As noted by head of the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples, the Turkish Prime Minister is trying to intimidate members of the PKK by the return of death penalty instead of solving complex political disputes and the "Kurdish issue". According to the chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (PMD) Selahattin Demirtas, the government is interested not so much in the fact of the legalization of death penalty, but in the elimination of one particular person - PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

It is hard to say what are the motifs of the Turkish Prime Minister, but we can confidently say that this action will have a strong public response ranging from censure by the European Union to the growing conflict between the PKK and the Government of the country.

Sergei Vasilenkov


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov