The EU’s top envoy in Turkey has said the 27-nation bloc supports Turkey’s decision to face its past as part of investigations into previous military coups.
“The idea that a country or state faces its past is something we certainly support,” Jean-Maurice Ripert, the EU’s ambassador to Turkey, told a group of reporters on Wednesday. “That includes member states of the EU as well,” Ripert added, stressing that the very foundation of the EU was based on the agreement of preventing the repetition of conflicts.
His comments came against the background of detention warrants that were issued for 13 more active-duty and retired military officers on Wednesday as part of the third wave of operations in a deepening probe into the Feb. 28, 1997 coup.
The Ankara Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said detention warrants were issued for seven active-duty and six retired military officers. The statement said police raided 12 premises early on Wednesday in İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Kars and that searches of various locations and the detention of suspects are still underway.
The Feb. 28 coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life, including an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf. The military was purged of members with suspected ties to religious groups. In addition, a number of newspapers were closed down after the coup based on a National Security Council (MGK) decision that called for closer monitoring of media outlets.
The trial of the bloody Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état has already begun at an Ankara court, with two senior leaders of the coup facing life sentences. The trial is still ongoing. As part of the landmark trials, Turkish courts have also been hearing cases involving suspects charged with the unsuccessful coup attempts known as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer.
The EU ambassador said the supremacy of civilian authority over the military is the value the EU cherishes, referring to the strong statement announced in the EU Progress report issued last year. “Mainstreaming the role of the army and its control by civilians are the basis of democracy,” he said, warning, however, that there are still some shortcomings in Turkey’s progress on that issue. “We still have some discussions to conclude on the remaining powers of military judiciary,” Ripert said, signaling that Turkey needs to do more to overhaul its judicial system to bring it in line with EU values.
According to the Turkey Progress Report released by the European Commission on Nov. 12, 2011, Turkey was praised for its good progress in civilian-military relations, which has been one of the points of strongest criticism since 1998. It was bashed, however, for not limiting the extensive powers of the country’s military courts, which have long been criticized for leading to dual-headedness in the judiciary in Turkey.
With regards to jailed deputies in Turkey, the ambassador has said it is not up to the EU to interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs, stressing that the issue is up to Turkish courts to sort out. “We do not interfere from a political perspective,” he remarked. Ripert further argued that “it was a strange, complicated and difficult situation to have a jailed deputy in any democratic country,” cautioning, however, that each and every case is different. “It was strange to nominate a person as a deputy while he was in jail,” he also noted. “All these MPs were already in jail when elected,” Ripert emphasized.
Jailed CHP deputies Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, as well as Engin Alan of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) face coup charges, while the six Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies currently imprisoned face charges of membership in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that prosecutors say includes the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Courts have the prerogative not to release individuals elected to Parliament if they have terrorism-related charges against them. Article 14 of the Constitution clearly states that an individual on trial for crimes against the “territorial integrity of the state” cannot benefit from diplomatic, parliamentary or any other kind of immunity.
The EU ambassador also clarified that the EU is not looking at landmark cases like Ergenekon, Balyoz, KCK or other cases from a political perspective. He said the EU is following these cases from the perspective of fundamental human rights issues, like conditions of detentions, duration of trials, durations of pre-trial detentions and conditions of delivering justice. “There are certain rules and regulations [that need to be followed] in EU acquis,” the EU envoy said, adding that “We have very good cooperation with the Justice Ministry and the government on these issues.”
Ripert praised the government’s submission of a third reform package to Parliament aimed at reforming the judicial system, saying the EU supports the 88-article reform package currently being discussed at the Justice Commission. He welcomed the announcement of the upcoming fourth reform package for judicial overhaul, stressing that this package will address two fundamental issues of freedom, namely freedom of the media and freedom of speech.
The EU ambassador also revealed that the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle is coming to Turkey on May 17 to officially inaugurate the working group for a new “positive agenda” policy, saying the group will work with Turkey on eight chapters for technical negotiation. “This was supported by the EU and the Turkish government as well,” he said, adding that both sides will work together on issues such as energy, trade, the Customs Union, counterterrorism, fundamental human rights and judicial reforms.