Turkey announced on Thursday the official end of the three-month “state of emergency” that began in July 2016.
The state of emergency was implemented after the unsuccessful coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Seven extensions were declared, prolonging the state of emergency for two years. Erdogan had promised not to extend it again during his re-election campaign, in a bid to reassure both Turkish voters and the European Union, which has frozen Turkey’s bid for membership due to its draconian post-coup security measures.
The Associated Press tallied up over 75,000 arrests during the protracted emergency, plus 130,000 civil servants fired from their jobs. Those detained and sacked included judges, prosecutors, teachers, and police and military officers.
Most of them were accused of ties to what the Turkish government refers to as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, a longtime resident of Pennsylvania who has been accused of masterminding the coup.
Turkish politicians accuse both the Obama and Trump administrations of stonewalling extradition for Gulen and express frustration that American officials refuse to accept the evidence of sedition they have provided. The most recent talks on the matter were held on July 13 in Ankara, where the Turkish Foreign Minister exhorted officials from the U.S. Justice and State Departments to stop “stalling” Gulen’s extradition.
In the United States, the best-known private individual Turkey has accused of working for Gulen’s vast conspiracy is Pastor Andrew Brunson, a Presbyterian missionary arrested by Turkey in 2016. For good measure, the Erdogan government also accuses Brunson of working for its other bete noire, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
President Donald Trump called Brunson’s imprisonment a “total disgrace” on Thursday and accused Erdogan of holding him “hostage” to obtain Gulen’s extradition. Erdogan has indeed proposed swapping Brunson for Gulen.
Analysts told CNBC on Thursday they are not much impressed by the nominal end of the state of emergency. They found it “symbolically positive” that the emergency is technically over, but doubted Erdogan would relax any of the powers he seized to combat the coup threat. In fact, the new system implemented over the past two years makes him much more powerful than the “emergency” measures instituted in July 2016 did.
The European Union issued a statement anticipating a less repressive environment now that the emergency condition has been lifted:
We believe the adoption of new legislative proposals granting extraordinary powers to the authorities and retaining several restrictive elements of the state of emergency would dampen any positive effect of its termination.
We also expect Turkey to follow through and reverse all measures that continue to impact negatively on the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the fundamental freedoms that are at the core of any democratic state.
Both Turkish opposition leaders and outside observers have voiced deep reservations about Turkey’s new anti-terrorism bill, which Deutsche Welle explained would effectively make the most important post-2016 emergency conditions permanent:
The government-backed bill, which is set to be introduced to the parliament next week, allows authorities to dismiss judges, members of the military or ministry employees under conditions similar to the emergency regime if they are believed to be linked with terror groups.
Protests and public rallies would be banned in public areas after sunset, although organizers would be able to seek an exception if the event does not disturb the public order.
Local officials would be able to prohibit individuals from entering or leaving a certain area for 15 days, and the police would be able to hold a suspect for up to 12 days without a charge.
These powers would stay in place for at least the next three years.
The Los Angeles Times sarcastically wondered if anyone who didn’t hear the official announcement would notice that the state of emergency has been lifted.
“With this bill, with the measures in this text, the state of emergency will not be extended for three months, but for three years. They make it look like they are lifting the emergency but in fact, they are continuing it,” opposition leader Ozgur Ozel told reporters on Wednesday.