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Turkey: Pride March

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 21 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in seeking to uphold and promote global human rights, what support they have given, and what representations they have made, to the organisers and Turkish authorities about the Pride March and celebrations in Istanbul in June 2018.

My Lords, we have spoken with both the Turkish authorities and the civil society organisers of the Pride march to underline our strong backing for the event. We also urge the authorities to allow it go ahead. Our embassy in Ankara has long supported the LGBTI community in Turkey and we readily urge Turkey to work towards full protection of fundamental rights, including with respect to freedom of expression and assembly.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that, for the past few years, this demonstration has been stopped by the Turkish authorities using both tear gas and rubber bullets. In light of that, will the Government commit to do three things before the march on 1 July: first, to write a letter of support to the organisers, who would welcome that so it could be read out on the day; secondly, to ensure that the flag is flying above the consulate building in Istanbul for the whole of next week; and, thirdly, whoever wins the election this weekend, to send a strong letter to the President stating clearly that the UK Government support the march and will take a very dim view if it is broken up as it has been over the past few years?

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has spent a fair deal of time in Turkey, speaking to civil society groups. I assure him that we are working closely with them. On his three points, of course I will take them back. On the second point, about raising the flag, he will be aware that the flag was flown most recently on 17 May, marking the day the world united in standing up against homophobia and other phobias focused on the LGBTI community. On the election, he will be aware that a state of emergency still prevails in Turkey. We have been assured by the President that it will be lifted. I assure the noble Lord that we continue to raise fundamental human rights across the piece, including LGBTI rights, consistently and constantly with the Turkish authorities.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Kurdish leaders, community members and journalists are being arrested and that, when they are arrested and released, they are charged for the time they were in prison? What does the Minister think of this practice and what will he do to put pressure on the Turkish Government to stop it?

I am fully aware of the issue and the clamp-down on journalists in Turkey, not just Kurdish journalists but more generally, is something we have raised consistently. The noble Lord will be aware of the issue around other human rights defenders, including Amnesty International. I assure him that the Prime Minister, in her last meeting with the Turkish President when he was visiting London, raised the issue of the freedom of the press and of journalists being held and detained directly with him. He may well be aware that today sees the latest hearing in the trial of the current leader of Amnesty International in Turkey, Mr Kilic, and our embassy in Ankara has sent representation to that hearing.

My Lords, when President Erdogan met the Prime Minister, they agreed to stress the importance of human rights. Mark Field, the Minister, in the debate earlier this month said that the Government were keeping under review whether Turkey should be a human rights priority designation country. How active is that review, bearing in mind the ongoing situation with human rights abuses which are getting worse since he met the Prime Minister? How exactly is that review being conducted?

As the noble Lord will be aware—and I speak as a human rights Minister—30 countries are highlighted as part of our human rights report annually, which focuses not just on those countries with the worst types of human rights abuse across the piece, but also countries that have shown some degree of progress and where the United Kingdom exerts influence. The noble Lord will know that, irrespective of whether countries, including Turkey, are on that list, we constantly raise all matters relating to the suppression of human rights, be they on the LGBTI agenda or on press freedoms and other human rights defenders, and we will continue to do so. I assure him that we work very closely with Turkey on various other issues, but that co-operation does not mean that we do not candidly and forcefully raise the issue of human rights directly.

My Lords, whoever wins the elections in Turkey on 24 June will have sweeping new powers as an executive President. The very significant and dynamic Turkish community in this country is paying very close attention to what is going to happen, particularly in our relationship with Turkey. Can the Minister give an assurance that future UK-Turkey trade talks will ensure that respect for human rights will be at the heart of any discussions?

The noble Baroness speaks very eloquently, and of course we take great pride in all our diasporas. We talked just now about the Caribbean diaspora, which is a pride of Britain—but all our diasporas are, including our Turkish diaspora here in the United Kingdom. That is an important part of how we deal with and strengthen our relationship with Turkey. We are a friend of Turkey and work with Turkey across issues of aviation security, counterterrorism and the importance of trade, and I assure the noble Baroness that the issue of human rights is central in all our discussions.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the United Kingdom has raised the issue of general and grievous human rights violations in the Human Rights Council in Geneva?

As someone who regularly attends the Human Rights Council in Geneva, whether it is with Turkey or with all countries, I can say that our record will show that we consistently raise these important issues and the priorities which are often reflected in your Lordships’ House. I assure noble Lords that I listen to them very carefully and then articulate them at the Human Rights Council.