10 - 16 August 2000
Issue No. 494
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Turkey's perennial irritantBy Gareth Jenkins
The Turkish establishment's continuing crackdown on suspected Islamist activists hit an unexpected snag last week when Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer refused to ratify a government decree, which would have allowed the summary dismissal of civil servants suspected of involvement in anti-secular and separatist activities.
The decree was the latest in a series of legal measures to curb the Islamist movement that began with the successful military-led campaign to topple the country's first Islamist-led government in 1997. The coalition government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit claims that the decree is needed to circumvent restrictions in Turkish law on the dismissal and disciplining of civil servants. The decree presented to Sezer for ratification was loosely worded and would have enabled the authorities to dismiss any civil servant suspected of being involved in "divisive or subversive activities, attempting to alter or undermine any of the republic's principles or acting against any of them."
But the government has made little effort to disguise the fact that the main target of the decree are Islamist activists. Under the existing legislation civil servants cannot be dismissed until they are convicted of a criminal offence. The government claims that nearly 400 teachers, preachers, judges, doctors and engineers are still on the state payroll despite having been arrested in connection with alleged killings by the Turkish Hizbullah.
"Light disciplinary punishments enable them to continue their work and thus weaken efforts to prevent divisive actions and radical Islamic activism," said Ecevit.
But opponents of the decree argue that it would not only enable the authorities to dismiss civil servants on the basis of rumour but also violates the principle that anyone accused of an offence is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
"The decree sets a dangerous precedent," said Hayri Kozakcioglu, deputy chairman of the opposition True Path Party. "It should be up to the courts to decide whether anyone is guilty of an offence."
Yet Sezer's objections to the decree appear to be based on legislative procedure rather than moral principle. A former Constitutional Court judge and a committed Kemalist, whose appointment earlier this year was warmly welcomed by the Turkey's fiercely secular military, Sezer has a reputation for a rigid adherence to rules and regulations. Sources close to the presidency said that he had rejected the decree because under the Turkish constitution, regulations related to civil servants can only be amended by a full-fledged law passed by parliament rather than a government decree. The sources commented that in the past Sezer had voted against another decree related to civil service regulations while serving on the Constitutional Court. "I can't contradict myself now," they quoted him as saying.
The government, nevertheless, remains optimistic that it can find a way out of the impasse and has refused to contemplate withdrawing the decree.
But, while the government and the president attempt to hammer out an acceptable compromise, the Turkish military has continued its rigorous purge of suspected Islamist activists within its own ranks. Last Wednesday the Supreme Military Council (YAS) cashiered another 44 serving officers, raising the total dismissed over the last four years to 779. Under Turkish law, not only do the officers have no opportunity to defend themselves but the decisions of YAS are not subject to appeal. The cashiered officers lose all their pension rights and are forbidden from working in the state sector.
"We are accused of being fundamentalists but when we ask what we have done wrong we don't receive a reply," said one dismissed officer. "The only thing I can think of in my case is that my wife used to wear a headscarf. Now I won't even be able to find work in the private sector as any prospective employer is going to ask for the references and the army will tell him not give me a job. What am I going to do?"
"Not having the right to an appeal is against human rights, of course," commented a high ranking military source. "But we are fighting a war for the future of the republic."