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House of Lords Hansard
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Turkey: Selahattin Demirtas
02 March 2017
Volume 779

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Turkey following the sentence of imprisonment imposed on Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the HDP party.

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Turkey.

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My Lords, we expect Turkey to undertake any legal processes against MPs fairly, transparently and with full respect for the rule of law. We follow developments in Turkey closely and underline the importance of the rule of law and the protection of freedom of expression. The Prime Minister raised human rights at the highest level when she visited Turkey in January, as have the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe during their visits there.

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I thank the Minister for her reply. Many of us of course have deep concern about the coup that occurred last year. In the events that followed, it appears that the Turkish Government have considerably overreacted, with mass dismissals and interference in the judiciary; and now a number of opposition politicians are in prison. Noting the concern of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and of the Venice Commission, will the Government do their best to work internationally to bring home to the Turkish Government the need to abide by international norms in the way that they treat their opposition?

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I can indeed give my noble friend that assurance. I welcome the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s continued engagement on Turkey. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend’s work, both on PACE and on the Venice Commission. I can update noble Lords on something that happened yesterday, when Her Majesty’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe had an exchange of views with the Turkish Minister of Justice at the Committee of Ministers and stressed that, although we welcome Turkey’s moves to address the Council of Europe’s concerns on the state of emergency procedures, including the establishment of its own commission to review dismissals, it is important that that operates on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights and that Turkey should continue to co-operate with the Venice Commission.

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Does the Minister agree that the accession of Turkey to the European Union has always been decades further away from reality than was claimed, falsely, by Brexit campaigners last year? Will she tell us what the reply was from President Erdogan when the Prime Minister raised the issue of human rights in her conversations with him?

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I have given answers several times at the Dispatch Box about the accession of Turkey to the European Union and made it clear that, since progress toward accession means abiding by international and European standards of human rights, Turkey has much progress to make. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister indeed raised the matter of human rights with President Erdogan. Given that that was a private conversation I cannot report it, but I assure the noble Lord that the conversation was amicable—and it was a conversation.

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My Lords, Turkey is such an important partner to this country in terms of trade and the relations that we have had for hundreds of years, and is an important member of NATO. Is the Minister aware that, after what happened last year in the Brexit debate—as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, just referred to, Turkey as a country was demonised because of its aspirations to join the European Union—the majority of the public there do not now want to join the EU? In fact, any taxi driver one comes across will have a photograph of the poster claiming that 78 million Turks—all criminals—are coming to this country. What we have done, really, has made Turkey drift further away. What possible influence can we have to ensure that Turkey’s internal structures and democracies are much sounder and, for example, that Mr Demirtas, the leader of the third-largest political party, should not face 20 years’ imprisonment?

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My Lords, our influence is directly related to our ability to gain access to the highest levels in Turkey, which is exactly what has happened with the visits of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Sir Alan Duncan—he has paid three visits there—as well as to our work through the European Union, where we joined in a joint statement at the end of last year expressing our concerns about the way in which the judicial processes had gone forward against certain Members, such as Mr Demirtas. With regard to the wider issue of accession, it really is a matter for the people of Turkey to determine whether they wish to join. The noble Baroness has pointed out her perceptions of the current state of mind of some of the Turkish people.

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My Lords, given that the HDP is in alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Regions Party and is a pro-minority party, can the noble Baroness reflect for a moment on the implications of this arrest for the position of minorities inside Turkey? Can she also reflect on the way that Turkey deals with minorities in places such as Sinjar and Nineveh in neighbouring Iraq when it comes to determining its policy towards a self-governing area?

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My Lords, as the noble Baroness just mentioned, we are talking about a country that faced a significant threat to its democracy last year. We have to recognise that this was a violent attempt at a coup. Against that background, one has to have a proportionate response, which is something that we have stressed, and judicial processes may have to be followed. However, the noble Lord is right to point out that, in carrying out responses to violent assaults on the Government, one has to consider very carefully the implications of one’s actions on minorities and how they can fester further violence in the future.