ISTANBUL: Turkey tried to assure its citizens and the outside world on Thursday that there will be no return to the deep repression of the past even though President Tayyip Erdogan has imposed the first nationwide state of emergency since the 1980s.
With Erdogan cracking down on thousands of people in the judiciary, education, military and civil service after last weekend’s failed military coup, a lawmaker from the main opposition party said the state of emergency created “a way of ruling that paves the way for abuse”.
An international lawyers’ group warned Turkey against using the state of emergency to subvert the rule of law and human rights, pointing to allegations of torture and ill-treatment of people held in the mass roundup.
Announcing the state of emergency late on Wednesday, Erdogan said it would last at least three months and allow his government to take swift measures against supporters of the coup, in which 246 people were killed and hundreds wounded.
It will permit the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary.
For some Turks, the move raised fears of a return to the days of martial law after a 1980 military coup, or the height of a Kurdish insurgency in the 1990s when much of the largely Kurdish southeast was under a state of emergency declared by the previous government.
About 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or have been placed under investigation since the coup was put down.
Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, who previously worked on Wall Street and is seen as one of the most investor-friendly politicians in the ruling AK Party, took to television and Twitter in an attempt to calm nervous financial markets and dispel comparisons with the past.
“The state of emergency in Turkey won’t include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press etc. It isn’t martial law of 1990s,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m confident Turkey will come out of this with much stronger democracy, better functioning market economy & enhanced investment climate.”
Markets were less than confident. The lira currency was near a new record low on Thursday, while the main stock index was down 3.6 percent. The cost of insuring Turkish debt against default also surged.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the state of emergency was aimed at averting a possible second military coup. Another deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, was quoted by broadcaster NTV as saying Turkey would invoke its right to suspend its obligations temporarily under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Turkey’s Western allies have expressed solidarity with the government over the coup attempt but have also voiced alarm at the scale and swiftness of the response, urging it to adhere to democratic values.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on Turkey to restrict the state of emergency to the shortest period that was absolutely necessary.
The Geneva-based jurists group ICJ weighed in, with its secretary general, Wilder Taylor, saying in a statement: “There are human rights that can never be restricted even in a state of emergency.”
“The current allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and arbitrary arrests already point to serious violations of human rights,” he said, without giving details of the allegations.
Officials in Ankara say former air force chief Akin Ozturk, who has appeared in detention with his face and arms bruised and one ear bandaged, was a co-leader of the coup. Turkish media have reported that he denied this to prosecutors and that he said he tried to prevent the attempted putsch.
Some detained soldiers have been shown in photographs stripped to their underpants and handcuffed on the floors of police buses and a sports hall.
Erdogan blames a network of followers of an exiled U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for the attempted coup in which soldiers commandeered fighter jets, military helicopters and tanks in a failed effort to overthrow the government.
Ankara has said it will seek the extradition of Gulen, who has denounced the coup attempt and denied any involvement.
The putsch and the purge that has followed have unsettled the country of 80 million, a NATO member bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran, and a Western ally in the fight against Islamic State.
The state of emergency went into effect after it was published in the government’s official gazette early on Thursday. It still needs to pass a vote in parliament although that is assured because of the AK Party’s majority.
Erdogan announced the state of emergency in a live broadcast in front of his government ministers after a nearly five-hour meeting of the National Security Council.
“The aim of the declaration of the state of emergency is to be able to take fast and effective steps against this threat against democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms of our citizens,” he said.
Erdogan has said the sweep was not yet over and that he believed foreign countries might have been involved in the attempt to overthrow him.
A nationalist opposition party supported Erdogan but other opposition politicians were uneasy. “Once you obtain this mandate, you create a way of ruling that paves the way for abuse,” Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker with the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) told Reuters.
“The coup attempt was rebuffed with parliament and opposition support, and the government could have fought this with more measured methods.”
Academics have been banned from travelling abroad in what an official said was a temporary measure to prevent the risk of alleged coup plotters at universities from fleeing. TRT state television said 95 academics had been removed from their posts at Istanbul University alone.
Erdogan, an Islamist who has led Turkey as prime minister or president since 2003, has vowed to clean the “virus” responsible for the plot from all state institutions.
Around a third of Turkey’s roughly 360 serving generals have been detained, a second senior official said, with 99 charged pending trial and 14 more being held.
The Defence Ministry is investigating all military judges and prosecutors, and has suspended 262 of them, NTV reported, while 900 police officers in the capital, Ankara, were also suspended on Wednesday. The purge also extended to civil servants in the environment and sports ministries.
Authorities have also shut media outlets deemed to be supportive of Gulen, while more than 20,000 teachers and administrators have been suspended from the Education Ministry.
Those moves follow the detention of more than 6,000 members of the armed forces and the suspension of close to 3,000 judges and prosecutors. About 8,000 police officers have also been removed.
One of the ruling party’s most senior figures, Mustafa Sentop, on Wednesday called for the restoration of the death penalty for crimes aimed at changing the constitutional order.