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Turkey: Prisoners

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what impact they anticipate the outcome of the Turkish general election on 24 June will have on the government of Turkey’s treatment of those in prison, and in particular on its alignment with the principles laid down by the European Court of Human Rights.

My Lords, following the re-election of President Erdoğan and the majority control of Parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party on 24 June, we expect Turkey to safeguard the human rights of all its citizens, including those in prison, in line with its international human rights obligations. We urge Turkey to make progress in these areas and to lift the state of emergency, and we stand ready to help Turkey in any way we can.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. The European Court of Human Rights is of course a part of the Council of Europe, which this week has adopted a report showing that there are still thousands of prisoners in Turkey some two years after the coup. What is the Foreign Office doing in relation to individual representations? I have tabled a number of Questions about individuals, and I have been fobbed off with answers about general principles. Do we still make representations about individuals and, secondly, do we work in political co-operation with our EU partners? What are we going to do when we leave the EU? Will we be on our own, or will we still seek to work with them?

My noble friend raises three questions. First, he asked about the representations that the United Kingdom Government make. I assure him that, most recently when the Prime Minister met the President, we continued to raise various cases not only in general terms but in specific terms. He used the phrase “fobbed off”, which is not a phrase that I am familiar with in the context of the Foreign Office. I assure him that we make representations to the highest level consistently and on individual cases. As for working with our European partners, we continue to—and, as my noble friend knows, we strongly support the important monitoring work of the Council of Europe.

My Lords, the fact is that, since the coup, 160,000 people have been arrested under the state of emergency and 152,000 civil servants have lost their jobs. The situation is getting worse and, while I note what the Minister is saying about representations—I welcome those made by the Prime Minister—what direct steps are the Government taking to ensure that the state of emergency is lifted as soon as possible?

As with any bilateral relation, as the noble Lord is aware, we have strengthened co-operation over a range of areas. We co-operate with Turkey on aviation security and counterterrorism, and those important relationships are valued both by us and by Turkey. It is the nature and strength of that relationship that allows us to be very candid, open and honest in our exchanges on human rights issues, including the detentions the noble Lord has referred to. We continually raise those concerns generally and, as I said to my noble friend, specifically.

My Lords, I acknowledge the remarkable 87% turnout at the elections at the weekend and President Erdoğan’s victory, with 53% of the vote. However, will the Minister outline how Her Majesty’s Government can influence President Erdoğan—now that he has the extra executive powers, of course—on the question of returning to the principles of human rights and freedom of expression, which are the cornerstone of a mature democracy?

First, we of course recognise that democracy is an important part of any continuing and sustaining Government. We congratulate the President on his re-election, but in his speech he also acknowledged that there was a strong showing for opposition parties in the parliamentary returns, including the Kurdish minority party. We were encouraged by his acknowledging that he has to work more extensively in the interests of all Turkish citizens. As a Human Rights Minister, I can give the noble Baroness the assurance that, through international fora but, most importantly, bilaterally, we continue to press for the lifting of the state of emergency and for the human rights of all citizens of all backgrounds in Turkey.