The measures undertaken by Turkey under an almost two-year-old state of emergency have curtailed civil and political rights, according to a critical European Union report, which prompted Turkish officials to accuse the bloc of “bias” against Ankara.
Published on Tuesday by the European Commission, the annual progress report on Turkey’s EU membership talks comes at a time of increasingly tense bilateral relations.
In its document, the EU’s executive institution called on Ankara to immediately lift the state of emergency, which was declared in July 2016 after around 300 people were killed during a failed coup attempt. The measure has since been regularly extended.
Ankara blames the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based self-exiled religious leader, for the attempted coup. It says the movement’s members have been running “a parallel state” within the civilian and military bureaucracy and following their own agenda. Gulen denies the claims.
The EU report said that under the Turkish state of emergency, more than 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested and over 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Turkish authorities say that some 40,000 have been reinstated in the process.
The report called the measures taken after the attempted coup “disproportionate”, also saying they have limited freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and procedural rights.
“The broad scale and collective nature, and the disproportionality of measures taken since the attempted coup under the state of emergency, such as widespread dismissals, arrests, and detentions, continue to raise serious concerns,” the report said.
EU institutions and many member states have repeatedly condemned the Turkish government’s detentions and purges after the coup attempt.
Local and international rights groups accuse the government of using the coup attempt as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law and aim to remove Gulen’s supporters from state institutions and other parts of society.
Responding to the report, Yasin Aktay, a senior adviser to Erdogan, said the EU was biased in its assessment of Turkey.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, he said the bloc does not take seriously the “terror threat” in Turkey posed by groups such as Gulen’s movement, the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left armed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front.
“The EU acts with prejudice against Turkey and lacks empathy in its approach to the terror threat on our country,” Aktay said on Tuesday.
“Many member states easily support the propaganda against Turkey as they are against its EU bid. They use the terror threat in Turkey as a trump card for corrupting the country’s image, trying to show Turkey as a country without democracy.”
The report also said that during the state of emergency, the parliament’s “key function as legislative power was curtailed”.
“The government resorted to emergency decrees with ‘the force of law’ to also regulate issues which should have been processed under the ordinary legislative procedure,” the European Commission said.
But Aktay was quick to point out that there was still a state of emergency in France, two-and-a-half years after multiple attacks targeted the capital, Paris.
“Nobody tried to overthrow the [French] government in a coup attempt participated by thousands of people, and there is no anti-government network secretly and widely spread in state institutions with throngs of supporters,” Aktay said.
“There are no constantly acting armed terror groups in France, either.”
In April 2017, a referendum narrowly won by the government’s “Yes” camp changed Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
The constitutional changes passed in the referendum give the next president – to be elected in 2019 – new powers to appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. It allows the president to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees and impose states of emergency.
The European Commission report said that the newly introduced executive presidential system in Turkey lacks sufficient checks and balances and that it endangers the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.
It also said that there had been serious backsliding in the past year with regards to the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression.
It added that civil society came under increasing pressure under the state of emergency, notably in the face of a large number of arrests of activists and the recurrent use of bans of demonstrations.
The report criticised Turkey’s “criminal cases against journalists, human rights defenders, writers, or social media users, withdrawal of press cards, as well as the closure of numerous media outlets”.
“[These decisions are] mostly based on selective and arbitrary application of the law, especially provisions on national security and the fight against terrorism,” it said, adding that more than 150 journalists remain in prison in Turkey.
Can Baydarol, deputy chairman of the Ankara-based European Union and Global Research Association, said the report “fell short of calling for official suspension of the talks, which would be a very serious political move against Turkey”.
He noted that its findings suggest that Turkey is regressing and rapidly moving away from the bloc’s values, but added that “the EU itself is also responsible for this outcome”.
“There are many leaders across the EU who openly said that Turkey will not be an EU member no matter what. This makes Turkey to not trust the EU,” Baydarol told Al Jazeera.
Turkey’s EU membership talks have been practically frozen for years, while its relations with the EU have slumped to an all-time low in recent years.
Last month, a summit between EU President Donald Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Erdogan did not produce any relief for the tense ties.
Earlier in March, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for a formal ending of Ankara’s EU accession talks. Austria staunchly opposes Turkey’s EU membership.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in September – during a televised debate before her country’s parliamentary elections – that Turkey “should not become a member of the EU”. Earlier this year, she also said that a formal suspension of talks with Turkey is on the table.
The already declining relations between Ankara and the EU took a dive in March 2017 when the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Denmark banned Turkish ministers from addressing immigrants and expatriates in rallies within their borders for the 2017 referendum.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras