The Turkish government is considering decriminalizing conscientious objection to military service, state ministers said on Tuesday, signaling a surprising reversal of long-held policy.
“The Defense Ministry will assess the issue of conscientious objectors,” Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told reporters in Ankara. “It will be discussed and, if it is deemed appropriate, it will be brought to Parliament's agenda.” Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, responding to questions after Ergin's remarks, said the government will examine examples from countries that provide legal protection for conscientious objectors. PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government has undertaken many drastic reforms to undermine military influence over politics since it first came to power in 2002, but has been reluctant to respond to calls for legal protection for conscientious objectors. Military service is compulsory for all healthy men aged between 20 and 40 in Turkey. Those who refuse to fulfill their military service may face imprisonment. Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only two signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights that have not legalized conscientious exemption from military service.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, who spoke at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, criticized the government over its announcement that it was planning to pass a new law on conscientious objectors, saying it was an “indecent proposal that is out of line,” particularly because it was made at a time when Turkey is continuing its fight against terrorism and in an environment where its neighbors are facing a trial by fire. He said the MHP was going to reject the proposal. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), however, said it had prepared a draft proposal, which it said would be submitted to Parliament shortly. “Conscientious objection is a constitutional right recognized in EU countries. We think similar legislation should be adopted in Turkey,” said the party’s İstanbul deputy and Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu at a press conference he called on Tuesday. The Workers’ Party (İP), which is not represented in Parliament and whose leader and leading cadres are currently jailed as suspects in the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government, also released a statement saying that the legal preparations for legalizing conscientious objection to military service and another law in consideration which, if passed, will allow potential draftees to do a shortened and easier version of the usual military service, are attempts to destroy the Turkish Armed Forces.