Skip to main content

Turkish PM softens death penalty calls as crackdown continues

Apparent backtrack comes as military, civil servants and media continue to be targeted, including the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper
Yildirim said there were 'tougher ways to die' than being executed (AFP)

Turky's prime minister appeared to step back from calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty for those involved in last month's coup, saying on Tuesday that there were "tougher ways to die" than execution.

Binali Yildirim said a fair trial would represent a harsher punishment for suspected coup plotters than the death penalty.

"A person dies only once when executed," Yildirim told MPs from the ruling AKP party.

"There are tougher ways to die than the death (penalty) for them. That is an impartial and fair trial."

The comments came as Turkish prosecutors said they would seek nearly 2,000 years in prison - two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years - for Fetullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for the fauled July coup.

The also follow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion that Turkey could bring back capital punishment to punish plotters.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of the country's reforms to join the EU. Erdogan's threat stunned the block, which makes abolition an unnegotiable condition of joining.

Pro-Kurdish daily closed

Relations between Brussels and Ankara have already been strained since Turkey responded to the coup by launching a relentless crackdown against alleged plotters in state institutions and the media, amid calls from the EU to act within the rule of law. 

On Tuesday, an Istanbul court ordered the "temporary" closure of Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper which had been for months the focus of a campaign around press freedom.

The Istanbul public prosecutor said the Istanbul Eighth Criminal Court of Peace approved a request to temporarily shut down the paper over allegations of producing "propaganda" for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Ozgur Gundem, which has been the subject of court closures and raids since its launch in 1992, had since May operated a rotating editor-in-chief position to highlight Turkey's media crackdown.

Three of those who occupied the position - Sebnem Korur Fincanci, Erol Onderoglu and Ali Nesin - were arrested in June on charges of “making terror propaganda”, though they were later released.

At least 37 of the 44 who took part in the campaign are reported to have been placed under investigation as a result.

Since the 15 July attempted coup, more than 130 media outlets have been shut down after a state of emergency was declared.

On 27 July, 45 newspapers and 16 television stations were ordered to close, the official gazette said, prompting concern among Western leaders and press freedom organisations.

Tens of thousands of staff within the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been dismissed or detained since a rogue faction within the military tried to oust Erdogan from power.

Ankara blames Erdogan's ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher in self-exile in the United States, and his movement for ordering last month's coup bid. Gulen strongly denies the accusations.

Yildirim said Gulen would be brought to account for the attempted putsch during which more than 250 people lost their lives, excluding 34 coup plotters who were killed.

"Those responsible for the blood of our martyrs will be brought to account. We will not bring them to account acting out of revenge. We will bring them to account with justice," the prime minister said.

No judicial executions have taken place in Turkey since left-wing militant Hidir Aslan was hanged on 25 October 1984 in the wake of the 1980 military coup.

Two life sentences for Gulen

Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years in prison for Gulen, blamed by Ankara for masterminding last month's failed coup, state media reported on Tuesday.

In a 2,527-page indictment approved by prosecutors in the Usak region of western Turkey, Gulen is charged with "attempting to destroy the constitutional order by force" and "forming and running an armed terrorist group" among other accusations, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Thirteen out of 111 suspects in the case are remanded in custody, it said. All face prison terms ranging from two years to life in jail.

The so-called "Fethullah Terror Organisation" (FETO) - the name Ankara gives for the group led by Gulen - had infiltrated state archives through its members in the state institutions and intelligence units, according to the indictment.

The group has used foundations, private schools, companies, student dormitories, media outlets and insurance companies to serve its purpose of taking control of all state institutions, it added.

It has also collected funds from businessmen in the name of "donations" and transferred the money to the United States by means of front companies, and by using banks in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Germany, Anadolu reported.

The case dates back to September 2015, months before the failed coup, and had been launched by the Usak prosecutor's office into the financial assets of FETO.

Gulen, the reclusive cleric in who has lived in the United States since 1999, has been repeatedly accused of running a "parallel state" since a corruption scandal embroiling Erdogan, then premier, and several of his ministers erupted in 2013.