Debates intensify over PM's controversial death penalty remarks

Debates intensify over PM's controversial death penalty remarks

Bahçeli said the MHP would lend its full support if the prime minister’s AK Party brings a bill to Parliament to reinstate the death penalty. (Photo: AA)

November 13, 2012, Tuesday/ 16:49:00

Ankara politicians have remained focused on an ongoing debate over remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Turkey may discuss reinstating the death penalty in cases of acts of terror and murder, with some accusing the prime minister of working to drive Turkey from its EU-bound path and others pledging their support if the government takes any steps to bring back the penalty.

Devlet Bahçeli, chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), dedicated most of his parliamentary group meeting speech on Tuesday to the capital punishment row. He clearly stated that the MHP would lend its full support if the prime minister's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were to bring a bill to Parliament.

Turkey abandoned the death penalty in practice in 1984. In 2002, Turkey abolished the death penalty in peacetime as part of a package of reforms aimed at preparing the country for EU membership, and foreswore the practice in all circumstances, including times of war, in 2004. The death penalty was replaced by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

“Now that the prime minister has made mention of it, he should immediately bring a bill to Parliament for reinstatement of the death penalty. The MHP will remain resolute to the very end and help the AK Party bring back the death penalty. Let me see if you [the prime minister] can!” Bahçeli exclaimed.

Bahçeli, however, expressed doubt that Erdoğan and his government would go beyond words and take concrete steps to re-introduce capital punishment because, he said, the AK Party is unwilling to execute Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Öcalan is incarcerated on İmralı Island. Bahçeli said the prime minister should be deemed to be playing political games if he refuses to bring a bill to Parliament for reinstatement of the death penalty.

Erdoğan has made several references to the death penalty this month, first raising the issue at an AK Party meeting, where he said the Turkish public was in favor of the reinstatement of capital punishment. He later spoke to journalists, citing the case of a Norwegian killer who received just 21 years' imprisonment for murdering 77 civilians and saying the death penalty is sometimes justified. “This may not be the case for political crimes, but it may be possible, for sure, to discuss [bringing back] the death penalty in connection with crimes of terror and causing the deaths of people,” Erdoğan remarked to members of the press on Saturday.

The last time a prisoner was executed in Turkey was in 1984. Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was executed along with two cabinet ministers in 1961, a year after an army takeover.

Erdoğan addressed his deputies at the AK Party's parliamentary group meeting in a long speech on Tuesday, but he did not make mention of the death penalty. Instead, he spoke about the hunger strike engaged in by hundreds of PKK members and supporters to demand broader cultural rights for Kurds and improved prison conditions for Öcalan.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) did not hold a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday. However, the party's co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş spoke to the press on Monday about the possibility of the reinstatement of capital punishment, saying his party is staunchly opposed to such a plan. He also said Öcalan cannot be sentenced to capital punishment even if Parliament adopts a law to bring it back because new laws are not applied to past incidents. “It is something even freshmen at law faculties know. Öcalan cannot be sentenced to death because he was already tried and sentenced to life,” he stated.

Demirtaş also implied that the prime minister could himself be sentenced to death some day. “If the prime minister is bringing the issue of capital punishment to the agenda, then he should stop and think for a while. No one can know whose neck the rope will sit on once the gallows are set up. You may be the ruling party today, but you cannot know who will grasp power tomorrow,” the BDP co-chair said.

Also on Monday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters that the prime minister had made remarks about the death penalty solely in reference to Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik. “The prime minister wished to draw attention to mass murders,” he said, implying that Erdoğan's remarks were not intended to spark a debate over the reinstatement of capital punishment in Turkey.

Davutoğlu also said Turkey is unlikely to bring back the death penalty because its bid to become a full member to the EU would not allow such a move. “We will always be loyal to our commitments for EU membership, but we expect the union to display the same commitment,” the minister stated.

Justice Minister Ergin: No preparation to reinstate death penalty

In the meantime, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said late on Tuesday that no preparations are being made to reinstate capital punishment at his ministry as debates entered full swing after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan put forth the idea of bringing back the death penalty in cases of acts of terror and murder.

Speaking in a session of Parliament over the annual budget of the Ministry of Justice, Ergin said there is no proposal or plan on the table to reinstate capital punishment despite ongoing debates among politicians.

"It is being discussed by the public. Our prime minister mentioned the issue, but the ministry is not pursuing the matter for the time being," he said.

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