During the last two years the issue of the death penalty has been recurrent within the Turkish government agenda and has caused tensions in the diplomatic relations of this Mediterranean nation, mainly with the member countries of the European Union (EU).
After more than three decades without sentencing any of its citizens to death, Turkey legally abolished the maximum penalty in 2004, with the aim of speeding up the process of alliance and integration to the Western bloc and becoming part of the EU.
The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not satisfied with this and in the following years he came to accuse the neutral positions of the countries of the old continent, regarding the issue.
«The West is abolishing the death penalty, but, meanwhile, sees how several death sentences are carried out in Egypt and do nothing about it,» Erdogan said in 2015.
Turkey’s stance on the death penalty took a 180 degree turn when the current president suffered the unsuccessful attempt of a coup on July 15, 2016. As soon as he managed to set foot on national lands, the president began to show his change of attitude by adding in a public statement that the action started as «the result of a betrayal. Those responsible for the uprising will pay a very high price. »
A few months later, Erdogan informed the world that his nation would consider the idea of reactivating the death penalty as a judicial sanction. The international reaction did not wait and soon the threats came from the West to stop the process of Turkey’s integration into the EU.
Voices such as that of the Foreign Minister and Belgian Vice-President, Didier Reynders, resonated in the public arena when announcing that this Ankara position was «a red line for both Belgium and the European Union […] will mean the end of the European perspective of Turkey.
» Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also expressed strong opinion on the matter and argued that those who had broken the law could not receive the fatal sentence. His point was founded on the Turkish legal corpus itself, which prohibits retroactivity and, therefore, limits the courts to sanction only with the tools established at the time of the crime.
The debate on the subject was widely expressed throughout 2017 and part of 2018. At one point, the issue seemed to be dormant, but new internal events again raised dust. During the summer months of this year, the disappearance of three infants was reported and the bodies of Eylul Yaglikara and Leyla Aydemir, eight and four years old, respectively, were also found.
The corpses of the Turkish girls showed signs of sexual aggression, a fact that revived the debate on the death penalty, this time for those responsible in acts against humanity such as the one described. The reaction did not come only from the government; a group of people took to the streets of Istanbul demanding from the top leaders of the nation the greatest punishment for the accused. Bekir Bozdag, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, promised «decisive steps» and testified that the culprits would receive, at least, the castration measure by chemical methods.
Turkey’s relations with the EU have reached such a degree of tension that the foreign minister of that country, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has publicly declared the hypocrisy and double standards of the spokespersons of the Western group.
The new economic and military alliances of the Turks with nations such as Russia, Syria and Iran, the 14 years elapsed after the repeal of the death penalty without reaching the expected result and the loss of confidence of Erdogan in its main partners after the coup attempt, are elements that combine to immunize Turkey from European coercion.
The new incident, strong enough to remove the sensitivities of the state or the population, could make the words of the president become something more than that and then, in the world, 59 the countries that charge, for a crime , life.