Turkey's New Decree Could Grant Immunity to Vigilante Action Against Government Opponents

The new emergence decree would ensure that individuals who carried out political violence against supporters of last year's coup attempt would not face punishment

People wave Turkish flags on the anniversary of last year's failed coup, Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2017
Bloomberg

A new emergency decree in Turkey could allow vigilantes to carry out political violence with impunity against opponents of the government suspected of involvement in last year’s coup attempt, Turkey’s main lawyers’ groups said on Monday.

The government defended the emergency decree, issued on Sunday, which it said was intended to ensure that Turks who took to the streets to protect the elected government during the failed 2016 coup would not face punishment.

Turkey already granted officials immunity last year from prosecution for their official actions taken to suppress the coup. Sunday’s decree extended that immunity to civilians “whether they have an official title or not, and whether they have carried out official duties or not”.

The lawyers’ groups said the measure was vaguely-worded and could lead to violence.

“People will start shooting each other in the head on the streets. How will you prevent this?” Metin Feyzioglu, the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, said in a video response.

“So you have brought out an article that leaves civilians killing and lynching each other unpunished and without compensation. Are you aware of what you have done Mr. President?”

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it would appeal the decree at the constitutional court.

In a rare show of opposition, Abdullah Gul, a former president and longtime ally of President Tayyip Erdogan, said the wording of the article was worrisome, adding that he hoped it would be revised to prevent problems in the future.

A separate decree on Sunday dismissed 2,756 more people from their jobs, accusing them of links to terrorist organizations. Turkey has already sacked or suspended more than 150,000 police, teachers, lawyers and other professionals from their jobs in the aftermath of the coup. More than 50,000 people have been arrested.

In a joint statement, the Ankara and Istanbul bar associations called Sunday’s two decrees “the last two nails in the coffin of the law”.

Erdogan says tough measures in the wake of the coup are necessary to root out the perpetrators. His government blames the failed takeover on followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish-born cleric based in the United States, who denies responsibility.

The lawyers said the decree granting immunity did not make clear what sort of actions could be seen as furthering the aims of the coup, for which civilians carrying out revenge attacks could now be protected from punishment. The government said the decree covered only the night of the failed military takeover itself, despite the date not being specified in the text.

“This regulation concerns solely the night of the coup attempt, July 15 2016, and its aftermath, which is the morning of July 16. This does not encompass terror acts that were carried out later,” Mahir Unal, the spokesman for the ruling AK Party, told reporters at a televised news conference.

“What we have done for this country’s stability and development is evident. What is also evident is what these people who tell these lies and black propaganda do,” he said.