What does Turkey’s State of Emergency mean for civilians? aka calm down

Turkey’s President Erdogan just declared a 3 month State of Emergency. So what does it actually mean? Key points/summary below. For a more detailed version, see the source here 

  1. The State of Emergency cannot exceed 6 months
  2. It can be extended by 4 months at a time, each time by approval of parliament
  3. Decrees (ie law) issued under state cannot be contested as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court (to put another way the Constitutional Court cannot question constitutionality of decrees declared under State of Emergency – it is not a time of civilian rule so rules suspended).
  4. Martial law can be enacted during period of state of emergency (can also exist exclusively depending under which Article emergency invoked- Articles 119 or 120 – check again the link above)
  5. Fundamental rights may be partially/entirely suspended (which is almost identical to Article 15 of European Convention of Human Rights)
  6. Important: no one can be held guilty until so proven by court judgement (meaning there are protective civil liberty elements within the Constitutions Article 15)
  7. However under State of Emergency, fundamental rights are not under the control of the judiciary (ie, again there is a parliamentary check on this)
  8. There cannot be amendments made to law during a State of Emergency, these can only be made after end of the State of Emergency per regular parliamentary procedure (ie Parliament has to approve).

Interpretation: While on surface this may appear alarming there are robust checks under the State of Emergency to protect civil liberties. Also, there was a 15 year state of emergency between 1987-2002 in some parts of Turkey, so this has occurred in recent memory. The ‘shock’ comes from evaluating Turkish democratic standards with those of a developed Western liberal democracy and the freedoms that entails. Turkey is still considered a developing country in some respects, and it is not Western, but it is also not to be equated with various Middle Eastern regimes permeated by military or dynastic rule. Some angst comes from the panic that it will defer to the latter, particularly when considering Turkey has made resounding economic, democratic and human developed leaps in the past decade to distinguish itself from undemocratic, undeveloped regimes/areas. Concerns remain in other areas namely freedom of assembly, press and the economic slowdown not just from the past days but recent years.

What we do not yet know/questions:

  • Will there be curfews? We don’t know, it hasn’t been announced
  • Didn’t they sack all the judges? No, 2745 judges have been removed (as of 2013 there were over 12,000 judges in Turkey and incidentally more than half were women).
  • Are you scared? No, but concerned. These measures can be enacted during a natural disaster or economic crisis (Article 119) or during widespread acts of violence and serious deterioration of public order (Article 120). Concern comes from the status quo being living under a non state of emergency. The status quo would be to be living under regular civilian law. What it means beyond today’s announcement is uncertain. Follow me on Twitter for regular updates.