Union leader latest target in government of Turkey's war on democracy
The IUF strongly condemns the June 17 detention of Arzu Cerkezoglu, general secretary of the national trade union center DISK, on charges of 'insulting the President' in a speech she delivered last year. Cerkezoglu was detained and interrogated by prosecutors as she was preparing to travel abroad before being released.
Arzu Cerkezoglu is not the first trade unionist to be investigated or charged with insulting the President, nor will she be the last, unless the government of Turkey is effectively pressured to respect fundamental democratic rights. Some 1,850 criminal cases have been launched under Article 199 of the penal code for the 'crime' of insulting the President since Erdogan became President in August 2014. The law has been broadly used to target journalists, lawyers and social, cultural and political expression of every type. Conviction can bring a prison sentence of up to 4 years.
Arrests, investigations and imprisonment under Article 199 and similarly repressive articles of the penal code are being deployed to shut down the rapidly shrinking space for democratic dissent. In May, pro-Erdogan legislators voted to strip one-third of the members of Parliament of their immunity from prosecution, paving the way for their criminal prosecution on charges ranging from 'insulting the President' to 'supporting terrorism'. Erdogan is now moving to finalize the consolidation of an unrestrained authoritarian executive which was temporarily upended by the electoral breakthrough last year of the Peoples' Democratic Party HDP.
The European Union, given its multiple ties with Turkey, has a particular responsibility to respond to the escalating repression, but abandoned all democratic principles when it assigned to Erdogan the task of keeping refugees out of Europe. EU silence is the price of political blackmail. International union action to defend democracy in Turkey, including guarantees of the basic trade union rights Turkey badly lacks, is more necessary than ever before.
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