March 20, 2018 / 9:36 AM / in a month

U.N. calls for Turkey to end state of emergency, halt violations

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations called on Turkey on Tuesday to end its 20-month-old state of emergency and accused Ankara of mass arrests, arbitrary sackings and other abuses that in some cases amounted to “collective punishment”.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets members of the parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting in Ankara Turkey March 20, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the report was filled with unfounded allegations and compared the criticism with propaganda announcements from militant groups.

The U.N. human rights office said Turkey had arrested 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since a failed coup in July 2016.

The crackdown was having a “chilling effect” on Turkish society by showing that any dissent will be punished, the U.N. added.

The state of emergency, declared by President Tayyip Erdogan after the coup bid and still in force, has been used to justify the torture of detainees and interference with the judiciary, the U.N. human rights office said.

Turkey should “promptly end the state of emergency and restore the normal functioning of institutions and the rule of law,” the U.N. report said.

The foreign ministry in Ankara said the report showed prejudice against Turkey and ignored “the severe and multiple terrorist threats” it was facing.

The report “contains unfounded allegations matching up perfectly with the propaganda efforts of terrorist organizations,” the ministry added.

“JUST STAGGERING”

The Turkish government blames the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, for the failed coup attempt during which 250 people were killed. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the numbers of people arrested or dismissed are “just staggering”.

Nearly 160,000 people have been arrested and 152,000 civil servants sacked, “many totally arbitrarily”, in the 18 months through to December 2017, he said in a statement.

“Teachers, judges and lawyers dismissed or prosecuted; journalists arrested, media outlets shut down and websites blocked - clearly the successive states of emergency declared in Turkey have been used to severely and arbitrarily curtail the human rights of a very large number of people,” Zeid said.

The report, based on 104 interviews, describes the use of torture and ill-treatment in custody, including severe beatings, sexual assault, electric shocks and waterboarding by police, gendarmerie, military police and security forces.

“We have taken into account the fact that Turkey is combating a large number of terrorist attacks,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

She said victims included at least 50 women detained just before or after having given birth, some separated from their babies. One woman had been shackled by her legs immediately after a miscarriage, she added.

“We have reports that people were detained and ill-treated without charge by anti-terror police units and security forces at places like sports centers and hospitals, as well as detention facilities,” she added.

Shamdasani, asked whether the violations constitute collective punishment - illegal under international law - replied: “There clearly are instances where people are being collectively punished.”

Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Heavens

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