Turkey set to extend state of emergency, 32,000 jailed

This file photograph taken on July 16, 2016 shows a man approaching Turkish military with his hands up at the entrance to the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul.
This file photograph taken on July 16, 2016 shows a man approaching Turkish military with his hands up at the entrance to the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul.PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey's top national security body on Wednesday (Sept 28) called for an extension of the controversial state of emergency imposed after the July 15 coup that has already seen 32,000 suspects placed under arrest in an unprecedented crackdown.

The National Security Council (MGK) said after a meeting in Ankara chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at his presidential palace that the emergency should be extended to ensure "the protection of our democracy, rule of law, rights and freedoms of our citizens".

The state of emergency has provided the legal framework for the biggest crackdown in Turkey's modern history but also raised alarm among its partners in the European Union and United States.

Erdogan declared the three-month state of emergency on July 20 less than a week after the failed coup, meaning it had been due to expire in mid October.

The statement by the MGK makes the announcement of the new state of emergency a formality but did not say whether the next period should also last three months.

Activists have accused Ankara of eroding the rule of law with the emergency, but the authorities say the measures are needed to tackle supporters of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who it blames for the coup. Gulen denies the charges.

Separately, the council also recommended that July 15 should in future years be marked as Turkey's annual "Day of Democracy and Freedoms", the statement said.

The coup was defeated when citizens poured into the streets in a show of support for Erdogan and faced down the rogue elements in the army seeking to oust him.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told NTV television that 70,000 people had been investigated after the attempted putsch on July 15, 32,000 of them remanded in custody.

Bozdag said that there could be new arrests but gave no no indication as to when trials might start.

The trials of tens of thousands of people will be the biggest legal process in Turkey's history and are set to put the system under enormous pressure.

"It is not entirely clear how the trials will be carried out," Bozdag acknowledged.

Bozdag said trials would take place in cities across the country and not in one single venue. But he indicated that in some places, purpose-build facilities would need to be set up.

While the minister said Istanbul already had sufficient capacity for its trials, a special venue was needed for Ankara and work was taking place on a trial venue at Sincan outside the capital.

Turkey has already granted some 38,000 convicts early release in an apparent bid to create more space in cramped jails for the coup suspects.

Turkish media reports say the authorities plan to build 174 new prisons over the next five years, which would increase the country's current prison capacity of less than 200,000 by another 100,000.

The purge after the coup has touched every sector in Turkey with those arrested ranging from top former generals to journalists and pastry magnates.

Youth and Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic told the Anadolu news agency Wednesday that 322 people had been suspended from his ministry on suspicion of being affiliated to Gulen.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has denied that he was linked to the coup in any way.

Bozdag said Turkey has asked Washington to place Gulen under arrest while the US authorities consider Ankara's extradition request, with an answer expected in the next day or two.

The defeat of the coup prompted a wave of solidarity in Turkey, which had seen governments directly ousted on three occasions by the military since 1960.

But amid signs that the unity is beginning to crumble, the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on Wednesday made his most severe criticism yet of the crackdown.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the CHP was against the state of emergency which he said had affected one million "victims" across Turkey.

He claimed teachers had lost their jobs simply for being union members, soldiers jailed as they followed orders on the night of the coup and cited the case of a police officer detained for sending money through a Gulen-linked bank.

"We must defend justice... I will resist this persecution," Kilicdaroglu said in a televised speech from the city of Tokat.