Next 20 June, the trial against the arrested Co-Mayor of our member city of Diyarbakır, Gültan Kışanak, will take place under a context of state of emergency in Turkey. According to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, her detention is contrary to human rights standards set forth in international treaties ratified by Turkey, such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or the European Charter of Local Self-Government. In relation with these organizations, the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights gives a follow up of the situation of the Diyarbakır Co-Mayors and other arrested public officials and representatives, inviting local governments and partners to join a common mobilization calling to safeguard local democracy in Turkey.
Local democracy in distress according to human rights international organizations
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe has recently passed a Resolution and a Recommendation expressing its concern regarding the situation of local democracy in Turkey. Both documents were adopted after a fact-finding mission conducted by two rapporteurs on October and December 2016. The decision to conduct this mission was taken in view to analyse the consequences of the emergency legislation introduced following the attempted military coup on 15 July 2016, which clearly had an impact on the situation of local elected representatives as well as on the conditions in which local democracy is exercised in Turkey.
In their explanatory memorandum, the two rapporteurs argue that some of the measures taken after the state of emergency, such as the detention and removal of locally elected mayors and their replacement with officials appointed by central authorities, contradicts some parts of the European Charter of Local Self-Government regarding local democracy, representation and self-government rights, thus Turkey’s own international obligations, since its Constitution stipulates that emergency decrees should not violate Turkey’s obligations under international law.
The rapporteurs also note that Turkish authorities have a tendency to refer to relatively distinct factors under the term “terrorist”; an important remark when considering that most of the mayors were arrested on terrorism charges and that the legal grounds of these accusations might not fall in line of the rest of the Council of Europe members, as it has been recently noted by its own Human Rights Commissioner. In light of these findings, the Congress expressed its concern on how these measures are seriously risking pluralist democracy in Turkey, noting that “the detentions of elected mayors (…) in more than 50 municipalities in Southeast Turkey has effectively suspended the practical exercise of local democracy in that region”
“Examine, with a view to their release, the situation of local representatives currently in detention”
The Congress also asked the Council of Europe to invite Turkish authorities “to examine the situation of local elected representatives currently in pre-trial detention in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights and, where appropriate, proceed with their immediate release”. In the same regard, the rapporteurs expressed their concern at “what appears to be a systematic practice of placing the mayors in prisons which are very far from their homes, which makes contact with their lawyers and families extremely difficult.”
The fact-finding mission has not been the only one to criticize the specific situation of imprisoned mayors and, most broadly, of what could be considered a dramatic increase of political prisoners in Turkey. Amnesty International, for instance, noted that “the attempted coup prompted a massive government crackdown on civil servants and civil society” and that “over 40,000 people were remanded in pre-trial detention” where “there was evidence of torture”. Violations of human rights by security forces might have been “continued with impunity, especially in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country”, geographical origin of most of the imprisoned mayors, among whom Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, co-Mayors of the Committee’s city of Diyarbakır.
The Committee expresses its solidarity and invites its members to mobilize in support of local democracy
The case of Gültan Kışanak, Fırat Anlı and other local public servants arrested last 25 October is specifically mentioned by the fact-finding mission of the Congress, noting how the two co-Mayors were replaced by a “caretaker mayor” appointed by the government who heads the municipality without convening the municipal council. The rapporteurs observe how many municipal staff have been suspended or dismissed, and that access to municipal services has thenceforth been very difficult. The first part of her trial, held last 22nd April, was heavily criticized by Turkish and international observers and labelled as politicized. By the end of the process, it was decided that she was to remain in prison until the celebration of the next hearing of the trial, to take place on 20th June.
National and international solidarity with Diyarbakır co-Mayors has been continuous since their detention, following the concerns of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, with support coming from civil society organizations and local governments from all over the world. The Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights launched a call on November for safeguarding local democracy in Turkey and to express solidarity with the co-Mayors and other public servants arrested. The Committee also invited its members and partners to contact Turkish Consulates and Embassies in their territories and to call upon the Turkish government asking for the release of Gultan Kisanak, Fırat Anli and all other arrested public servants of the city of Diyarbakır, and for the respect of local democracy in Turkey. Finally, the Committee also pushed forward for the creation of a group of observers on local democracy in the framework of UCLG, and idea which was recently brought forward in its last Executive Bureau.
In face of the forthcoming trial to the Mayor Gültan Kışanak, on 20 June, the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights invites its members and partners to contact Turkish Embassies and Consulates in their territories and to call upon the Turkish government firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org asking for the release of Mayor Gültan Kışanak, the co-Mayor Fırat Anlı and all other arrested public servants of the city of Diyarbakır and for respecting local democracy in Turkey. We also invite our members to support and spread this call among their citizens and to contact international and regional institutions for human rights protection. You can also take part in this solidarity campaign from the social networks by tweeting and publishing at Facebook using the hashtag #FreeGültan.
In the following link, you will find a basic template to address the Turkish government and the Turkish Consulates and Embassies to express solidarity with the arrested officials and to call for respecting local democracy in Turkey.
Source: UCLG news