I was watching Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on TV after a tragic event that took place in Adana. A 4-year-old girl, Gizem, was kidnapped and then found violently killed. I saw Erdoğan on TV speaking with a young woman who was requesting that he give the child’s killer the death penalty
He said, “I said this before. Haven’t you heard? You know, the death penalty is what my heart desires. But we’re governed by the rule of law and the death penalty does not exist [in Turkey] anymore. … First, the death penalty is what my heart wants. If [that can’t happen], then an aggravated life sentence [will].” The woman replied, “Please do not release the perpetrator of this act of violence,” and Erdoğan answered, “It is not possible for someone to be spend life in prison in our legal system.” According to Law No. 5275, Article 107, dated 2004, those condemned to aggravated life imprisonment are able to request they be put on probation after serving 30 years in prison.
Although Turkey had been a retentionist country since 1984, it abolished capital punishment for peacetime offenses in 2002 and for all offenses in 2004. In February 2006, the Erdoğan government ratified Protocol No. 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). After such a reformist atmosphere, it is obvious that we have arrived at the other end of the spectrum. Erdoğan’s conversation with the woman has been criticized by several human rights groups in Turkey, and last week it triggered a discussion on bringing back this inhumane punishment.
As far as I know, the Turkish government is still following a campaign against those walking death row in Egypt. In March 2014, 529 protesters of the coup d’état in Egypt and 683 more in April were condemned to death by the coup supporters of Egypt. Erdoğan has declared many times that the death penalty is not acceptable for the “democracy fighters” of Egypt, namely Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. We can say that his stance was met with great support inside Turkey, both from left- and right-wing parties, over the last month. As a criminal lawyer and human rights defender, I have been involved in many anti-death penalty campaigns for years and I am a supporter of Erdoğan when he opposes the death penalty in Egypt and any other corner of the world. But what shall we do with his contradictions? He strongly opposes the death penalty in Egypt, but “his heart” wants to bring it back to Turkey.
Last week, he scolded Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç and this week it was Turkish Bar Association (TBB) President Dr. Metin Feyzioğlu’s turn. Feyzioğlu was my doctorate advisor and I have never seen him talking nonsense. During the Council of State’s anniversary ceremony, Erdoğan interrupted Feyzioğlu’s speech, saying it was too long and political. Kılıç and Feyzioğlu are two lawyers who are high-level representatives of the judiciary and they were saying similar things when they were interrupted by the prime minister: Tension in a legal world harms everybody; more viable solutions are possible. Even these little criticisms led Erdoğan to become angry.
A lack of self confidence has made Erdoğan biased, closed to taking in any kind of criticism and quick to grow angry or harmful. In my opinion, the Turkish prime minister is fully aware that things are not going well and since he is a genius of politics, he has to discover new methods of communication. As William Shakespeare wrote in “Hamlet”: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”