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Turkey

Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013

2. What assessment he has made of the implications of the recent violence in Turkey for stability in the region. (159998)

10. What reports he has received on the Turkish authorities’ response to the recent demonstrations in Taksim square. (160007)

We are following events in Turkey closely and the Foreign Secretary and I have spoken in the past few days to our Turkish counterparts. We very much hope that matters can be resolved peacefully. A stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is important for regional stability. Turkey remains an important foreign policy partner and NATO ally, and we shall continue to support its continuing reform agenda and encourage Turkey to respect its obligations as defined in the European convention on human rights.

The Minister’s words were subdued. Is he not shocked to see this increasingly modern, secular and economically successful country arresting young people for using Twitter, blocking trade union demonstrations with riot police and now threatening to use the army on the streets against its own citizens? Will he and the Foreign Secretary now publicly urge the Turkish Government to respect people’s basic rights and freedoms of assembly and expression?

It is important that all human rights, as set out in the European convention to which Turkey, like us, is a party, are fully respected. Some of the images from Istanbul and Ankara are certainly disturbing. As friends of Turkey, we hope to see those problems resolved peacefully. We noted the statements last week by the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey that the police had overreacted in some instances and an investigation into those actions was needed. We support all efforts to address the protesters’ genuine concerns through dialogue and consultation.

Over the weekend, more than 100 civilians, including doctors and nurses treating the injured, were arrested and held in incommunicado detention. There have also been reports of beatings. In the light of that appalling situation, will the Minister not only state his hope, but call on the Turkish authorities to disclose the location of everyone who has been arrested and to release immediately medical professionals who are identified by the Turkish Medical Association? Will he also make a public statement condemning incommunicado detention, because we have not heard enough of the public outrage and it needs to be heard today?

We are obviously concerned about the reports of the arrest of lawyers and doctors who were treating injured protesters at the scene of the demonstrations. The freedoms of assembly, association and expression are important rights. It is fair to recognise that Turkey has carried through substantial judicial and political reforms in the past 20 years. It is a very different country from when the military ruled and the army were deployed on the streets at the first sign of a demonstration, but that does not detract from the fact that the basic freedoms and human rights that Turkey has signed up to need to be respected.

Although any response to protest must be proportionate, does the Minister agree that this is not the Arab uprising? The Turkish Government have been elected three times, and on the last occasion with more than 50% of the vote. If the protesters do not like the Government, the answer lies in the ballot box, not in violence.

My hon. Friend is right that the Government of Turkey have been elected three times with a decisive majority of votes from the people of Turkey. The electoral remedy is, indeed, available. It is also right to expect any democratic Government to abide by the national constitutional rules and international standards on human rights to which the country adheres.

Many people will be concerned about the generality of the Minister’s answers. Will he comment specifically on the recent reports that 38 young protesters in one city alone in Turkey have allegedly been arrested for comments made on Twitter? What representations has he made to the Turkish Government about upholding freedom of expression and the freedom to demonstrate? In particular, has he voiced concerns about the recent comments of the Turkish Interior Minister, who said that arrests would be initiated on the basis of protesters’ use of social media?

It is important that the Turkish Government, like any other democratic Government, abide by the rule of law and follow due process in respect of any action involving the police and the criminal-legal process. When talking to our Turkish counterparts, the Foreign Secretary and I certainly make clear the extent of the public concern in the United Kingdom. Those of us who have long been firm friends of Turkey and who want to see its European ambitions fulfilled see the process of judicial and political reform as an integral part of fulfilling those ambitions.