Turkey’s ruling party the AKP (Justice and Development Party) is continuing in its policy of intimidating those who dissent. It is estimated that some 6,000 people are in Turkish prisons because they do not share the views of the AKP. By the end of March this year this included 100 journalists and artists, 40 trade unionists, 600 students and academics and 1,000s of activists from the Kurdish community. Many languish in prison for month after month without being brought to trial.
Many of the individuals involved are wrongly being charged under anti-terrorist legislation, constituting serious crimes and possible hefty sentences. A case in point being on the 28 October last year 25 members of Egitim Sen, a teaching union affiliated to the Turkish confederation KESK, were sentenced to six years’ and five months’ imprisonment by the Izmir Criminal Court.
The “evidence” against them included possession of books that can be found in any bookstore in Turkey, and the holding of union meetings. Owing to the lack of evidence, it had appeared that the defendants were going to be acquitted, until two of the judges were summarily removed from the trial just before the final hearing. Even the Chief Justice was in favour of an acquittal.
Since then we have seen further attacks on trade unionists. In February 15 women activists and leaders of KESK affiliated unions were arrested. Then on 25 June, in early morning raids in some 20 Turkish cities, 71 trade unionists from KESK affiliated unions and KESK were dragged from their homes and offices under the pretext of action against an illegal terrorist organisation. Amongst their number are many trade union leaders including the General Secretary of KESK Lami Özgen and member of the ETUC executive committee.
The TUC has long supported successive British governments who have argued that the EU would benefit from Turkish membership but this must be based on a Turkey which respects human rights including those of workers. It is not good enough for the Turkish government to say they have ratified ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and indeed Turkish unions are free to organise. In reality Turkish trade unionists are frequently brutally treated by forces of the Turkish state whilst peacefully protesting or subject to the nightmare of being arrested under the anti-terrorist laws.
The TUC calls on the Turkish government to stop its repression of those who seek a truly democratic and pluralistic society; a society which embraces difference and promotes equality for all. They can give a positive statement of intent by freeing the imprisoned trade unionists and all those who peacefully seek to differ with the AKP.