PM refuses to return Gaddafi award in face of calls from civil society

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan was awarded the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights in November of last year for his "distinguished service to humanity," which he said will further encourage him to fight for human rights.

February 22, 2011, Tuesday/ 17:36:00

In response to growing calls from Turkish society on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to return the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights he received last year, the Prime Ministry said yesterday that “returning the award is out of the question.”

As the growing anti-government unrest in Libya is met by the brutal response of security forces, Turkish civil society has begun calling on Erdoğan to give back the award in protest of the Gaddafi violence in Libya, a demand that was rejected by the Prime Ministry in a statement released yesterday. The refusal to return the award may be linked to the safety of thousands of Turks in Libya who still expect to be evacuated.

The Young Civilians -- a civil society group known for its creative demonstrations in support of democracy -- made an open call to Erdoğan yesterday to return the award. “You showed sensitivity to what happened in Egypt. Take the side of the oppressed against the oppressive Gaddafi as well. Fix this evil act, which you cannot fix with your hand, with your tongue. Immediately give back the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights that you recently received. As long as this award exists on the shelves of the Republic of Turkey’s Prime Ministry, the responsibility for the ongoing massacres in Libya will remain on us,” the Young Civilians said.

The group made a reference to a hadith (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad in their call to the prime minister to speak against Gaddafi’s cruelty that says: “When you see an evil act you have to stop it with your hand. If you can’t, then at least speak out against it with your tongue. If you can’t, then at least you have to hate it with all your heart. And this is the weakest of faith.”

The uprising that toppled the governments in Egypt and Tunisia seems to have arrived in Libya, but Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have been resorting to the most brutal means in repressing the anti-government protestors. At least 200 civilians have been killed in the country after Libyan security forces opened fire on the protestors.

The ongoing brutality in Libya has put Erdoğan in the hot seat as the recipient of this prize. On Nov. 30, Erdoğan received the award for his “distinguished service to humanity,” which he said will further encourage him to fight for human rights. The Turkish prime minister said during the award ceremony that he will continue to protect the rights of people in the Middle East and all around the world.

Expectation for Egypt-like stance

He was applauded by many when he supported the Egyptian people and urged now toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to lend an ear to the demands of his people. He has not spoken about the Libyan incidents yet. “Erdoğan’s stance with regards to Egypt deserves admiration. In an environment where many states remained silent in the face of the anti-democratic process in Egypt -- fearing that now toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak might remain in office -- Erdoğan and Turkey took a risk and sided with democracy. He should adopt a similar stance and return this award as soon as possible,” Bekir Berat Özipek, an academic and a member of the Association for Liberal Thinking, told Today’s Zaman. Özipek, however, underscores that Erdoğan should take this initiative after all Turkish citizens in Libya have been evacuated. “We are talking about a crazy dictator,” he says.

Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal also called on Erdoğan to return the award he received. Stating that it is tragicomic for a person [Gaddafi] who treats his people cruelly to give such human rights awards is as if he is ridiculing humanity, Ünsal said: “We hope Erdoğan adopts a kind of stance that is similar to his approach with regards to Egypt. This is what befits Turkey as well.”

The human rights prize was established in 1988 by Muammar al-Gaddafi. According to its website, the prize is awarded to one of the “international personalities, bodies or organizations that have distinctively contributed to rendering an outstanding human service and has achieved great actions in defending human rights, protecting the causes of freedom and supporting peace everywhere in the world.” Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez are among the recipients of the award.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also commented on Erdoğan’s silence regarding the Libyan uprising yesterday and argued that “Erdoğan is doing what the award requires.”

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