The head of Europe’s top human rights watchdog took great pains to avoid delivering any remarks which could be offensive to the Turkish government, but a message between the lines concerning the ongoing Gezi Park unrest was quite clear: “The mentality of both the Turkish police and judiciary has to change.”
“There is a clear case law from the European court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on how the police should react to peaceful demonstrations. These are our principals which can be also used here. I’m very well aware that there are groups that have been trying to take over and exploit the demonstrations, which also happens in many places in Europe. Nearly always peaceful demonstrations are being exploited by other groups. But one has to try to control this in a way that doesn’t fuel these groups and give them better arguments than necessary,” Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said, in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News.
As he spoke of “young peaceful demonstrators,” Jagland was reminded that the very same young people had also been complaining of a government whose actions were widely considered to be turning into the practices of an authoritarian rule.
“This is part of the problem. Turkey has an authoritarian past. Laws have had to be changed taking into consideration the recently happened incident and with regard to freedom of expression. There is probably also a mentality in the judiciary and the police that has to be changed,” Jagland elaborated, citing ongoing bilateral cooperation between the CoE and the Turkish judicial institutions.
“This is a slow process,” Jagland admitted. “But it has to continue.”
Although Jagland declined to call his unannounced visit a “surprise,” Strasbourg-based CoE officials had already confirmed on June 24 that the visit was “a last minute arrangement” and it was scheduled in the morning of June 23.
In the prevailing tension in relations stemming from Turkey’s brutal crackdown on Gezi Park protesters, Jagland’s visit appeared to be part of mutual efforts for preserving the dialogue channels between the European institutions and Turkey.
Jagland repeatedly underlined during the interview that resuming the dialogue between Turkey and Europe was a must and that “he came here to bring the message that Turkey and Europe belong to each other.”
The secretary-general of the CoE spoke to the Daily News following his talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu earlier in the day.
Mentality and opposing messages
In a speech delivered on June 24 at a graduation ceremony at the Police Academy, Erdoğan hailed and encouraged the national police. Saying that the police forces had written a “heroic saga” during the Gezi Park interventions, Erdoğan also asserted that the police countered the protests within the scope of law, despite cases of attacks and provocation that would never be tolerated in another country.
“That’s why, it is important for us to continue having this dialogue,” Jagland said, when asked how the required mentality change within the police and judiciary could be realized if the governmental authorities had been giving messages which were quite supportive of such a mentality.
“I’m not a revolutionary, I understand that the society is moving from one point to another and in the meantime you will always have a lot of problems and shortcomings. But you have to find ways, remedies and make reforms; this is the only way. I mean you cannot do away with a mentality in the police and in the judiciary. By just doing this,” he added, as he was at the same time snapping his finger in a bid to underline that such change could not take place in the blink of an eye.
“You have to bring the right laws and slowly change the practices and the mentality. I think this is the only way,” Jagland said. “Of course, these events have – in a way – not stopped this process but of course it would have been better not to have it.”
Use of pepper spray, tear gas
Dozens of protesters have been taken into custody in relation to the Gezi Park unrest and some have been arrested on charges of provoking violence, of damaging public property and of being a member of a terrorist organization.
“That is something we should look into now based on the previous adjustments of the court in Strasbourg. It’s an excellent opportunity to look into laws that are incompliant with European standards and also the practices in the police. I mentioned that in the meeting with the prime minister, the use of tear gas in closed rooms like a hotel in Istanbul has been condemned several times by the court in Strasbourg,” Jagland said, referring to the fact that police fired tear gas inside the Divan Hotel in Istanbul which protesters were using as a base on June 15.