The streets of Istanbul were overflowing with supporters of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the 7th August, with at least a million people attending a rally held in the wake of the military’s failed coup. In his speech, condemning the U.S-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan declared that he is ready to reinstate the death penalty if the Turkish people demand it and the parliament approves.
“They say there is no death penalty in the EU… Well, the US has it, Japan has it, China has it, most of the world has it… Sovereignty belongs to the people, so if the people make this decision I am sure the political parties will comply,” Erdogan said.
Calls to reintroduce capital punishment have come amid a clampdown on public sector workers who were involved in the coup. With pro-government protestors demanding that the coup leaders be executed, Erdogan conveyed that the topic of capital punishment will be introduced in discussions with opposition parties shortly.
Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004, aiming to obtain membership into the European Union. Reintroducing such legislation would significantly jeopardise any opportunity Turkey may have of joining the EU. Turkey’s post-coup crackdown soured already deteriorating relations between EU nations and Turkey, with Erdogan blaming Europe’s leaders for failing to uphold promises made in the EU-Turkey refugee agreement on March 20. EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, severely criticised the proposed method of punishment, suggesting that Turkey “is not in a position to become a member [of the EU] any time soon and not even over a longer period.”
Moreover, human rights groups have condemned Turkey’s plans of reinstating capital punishment. Amnesty International declared that Erdogan’s perspective on the death penalty following the failed coup, which claimed the lives of over 270 people, is a “significant concern.” Not only is this considered an alarming method to punish those considered responsible for the coup attempt, but its reintroduction would violate several international human rights treaties, which Turkey is a party to. Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Fotis Filippou, stated that “reintroducing this ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment would be a major setback for human rights.” Given that it is a punishment that is widely rejected by democratic nations around the world, bringing back the death penalty will be considered a major step backward for Turkey.
When most of the world is on a trajectory towards the preservation of human rights and total abolition of capital punishment, it is likely that Turkey’s desire to reintroduce the death penalty will significantly affect its relations with rights-respecting democracies in the future.
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