For anyone, getting dismissed from your job can be a terrible experience. You lose your income, your benefits, your sense of purpose. It can cause relationships to suffer, and it might take some time before a new employment opportunity arises. Now imagine that you cannot find new employment as your dismissal was in fact legislated by the government; you have been officially, irrefutably, blacklisted. This is the situation in post-coup Turkey, where a two-year state of emergency allowed the government to impose dismissals across the public sector. Approximately 130,000 have been dismissed, including doctors, teachers, academics, media workers, government officials, police and military personal. A new Amnesty International Report Purged Beyond Return examines the devastating effects and the lack of effective appeal for these dismissed public sector workers.
The report confirms that the dismissal decrees – openly published in the governmental gazette, acting as a blacklist – are completely arbitrary. The justifications given were generic: that those dismissed “…had links to, were part of, were connected to, or in communication with…” proscribed terrorist organisations such as FETO or the PKK. Henceforth bared from the public sector for life, the majority of those affected have been unable to find another job. Those who have are no longer in their area of passion. An academic told Amnesty International: “I was prevented from pursuing my academic career; I have had to go work on construction sites because nobody else would give me a job”.
Discrimination is not limited to prospective employers. As one dismissed teacher voiced, “People look at you differently because of the dismissals. People are reluctant to even say hello to you… you are labelled as a terrorist and left completely isolated”. Some may believe the government line, but many fear of similarly being accused of terrorism by affiliation. Some of those dismissed have even noted reprisals such as being unable to find housing after being blacklisted. They have also had their passports cancelled, unable to seek a new life abroad.
Despite all this, for six months after the coup-attempt and imposition of the state of emergency, the thousands of dismissed workers had no domestic recourse for appeal. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights received a flood of applications. Then in January 2017, after considerable pressure and a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Turkey established the State of Emergency Commission (SoE Commission). This was mandated to hear appeals by those affected by the emergency decrees, namely those dismissed. However, as a substantive portion of Amnesty International’s report reveals, this Commission is by no means an effective remedy.
First and foremost, the SoE Commission is not independent from the state. Consisting of seven members, five are appointed by the President, Minister of Justice, and the Minister of the Interior. The remaining two are appointed by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which in turn has its members appointed by the President. Worryingly, SoE Commission members can also be dismissed by the government. They are, in effect, pressured into making decisions favourable to the ruling party. This is similar to the current-day Turkish judicial system generally, whereby judges are promoted, demoted, or even arrested based on their decisions.
Then there is the fact that the SOE Commission is not bound to deadlines, leaving applicants waiting for unreasonable amounts of time for a decision. The completed cases reviewed by Amnesty International ranged from four to ten months of uncertainty. And some dismissed workers were yet to receive a decision on applications submitted over a year ago. In all, as of 5 October 2018 – 21 months after the Commission was established – only 36,000 out of 125,000 applications had been reviewed. Such lengthy waiting periods, within the circumstances of no income, benefits or meaningful work, “underline the ineffectiveness of the appeal”.
These decisions are, moreover, made without a proper hearing. Those dismissed are not permitted to give testimony, call on witnesses, or even see the allegations or evidence against them. Rather, the cases are decided by a paper review, which is hardly a fair judicial process. The defendant is non-attendant, having instead submitted a written appeal guessing what the allegations might be. After analysing finalised SoE Commission decisions, Amnesty International found that they “lack merit and foregrounding in law”. So-called evidence included minor interactions with banks, trade unions, media outlets, civil society organisations and schools perceived to be associated with proscribed terrorist groups. This is even the case when the interactions occurred retrospective to the group being outlawed.
These arbitrary decisions on arbitrary dismissals can be appealed through the original judicial system. However, this gives rise to further problems. Court proceedings are costly, and these individuals are likely to have no income. And a lengthy SoE Commission waiting period is now extended to years of wondering whether one will have their name cleared. The judicial system itself has been criticised for its lack of independence. Then, it is difficult to launch an appeal when, aside from vague evidence about interactions and the like, the SoE Commission decisions lack any substance to refute. This is all the more concerning when one considers the statistics; of the 36,000 cases finalised by the Commission, just 6.76% resulted in a positive outcome. None have been finalised by the ordinary courts.
In the event of the rare positive decision by the SoE Commission, this does not necessarily amount to justice, i.e. being reinstated to one’s original position with sufficient recompense. For example, as outlined in Amnesty International’s report, police and military personal may be assigned to research centres, and academics cannot be reinstated to the same institution as before. Compensation for the financial and social benefits lost during the period of dismissal may be granted. However, this does not include reparation for other financial loss such as legal fees, or harms suffered such as to mental health. Furthermore, those dismissed are legally prevented from seeking any further compensation from outside the Commission.
Amnesty International concludes that the SoE Commission, rather than being an effective mode of appeal, “is in effect a rubber stamp for the government’s arbitrary dismissals.” It does not meet the requirements set out in domestic law, such as the Law on Public Servants or Turkish Labour Law. Nor does it meet the standards of international law. This includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Labour Organization Convention, and the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights, however, still considers the Commission an effective domestic avenue that must be pursued before they will hear an application. Amnesty International recommends that this position be reviewed.
Despite the State of Emergency ceasing on 18 July 2018, a law was passed on 25 July to allow summary dismissals of public sector workers with ‘links to terrorist organisations’; essentially equivalent to the previous emergency decrees. This will be in place for another three years. Amnesty International urges the Turkish government to repeal this law and reinstate all public-sector workers dismissed by decree. This should be to their original position with full compensation. If someone is reasonably suspected of misconduct or a criminal offence, they should have a regular disciplinary hearing with procedural safeguards. If the Turkish government fails to implement these recommendations, Amnesty urges the international community to intervene.