Counterterrorism is likely to be a dominant theme at today’s NATO summit in Brussels. NATO leaders will ponder ongoing operations against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria and the imperative to respond to attacks like the Manchester suicide bombing this week. And no doubt cooperation with Turkey will be part of the picture.
But NATO leaders should also address alarming developments in Turkey, a NATO member which uses a sweeping definition of terrorism and pliant courts to label and prosecute government critics and perceived opponents as terrorists.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appearance at the NATO Summit comes soon after his April referendum win and consolidation of power. Since the failed military coup last summer, Turkey’s anti-terror and national security laws have been used to not only arrest members of the military who participated in the coup attempt – the same laws have been relied on to round up and jail around 50,000 police officers, teachers, civil servants, judges, and others for whom prosecutors have produced no evidence of participation in the plot or in any activity which could or should be described as terrorism.
Among those in custody pending trial are more than 150 journalists, members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish parliamentary opposition, and other perceived government critics, including people who have simply criticized Erdoğan on social media. More than 100,000 civil servants have been summarily dismissed for unspecified association with terrorist organizations. Under a prolonged state of emergency, media outlets have been closed and peaceful demonstrations violently suppressed. The list goes on.
While no other NATO country shares the traumatic experience of an attempted coup in its recent history, none has demonstrated a similar pattern of such ruthless misuse of laws meant to protect a country from actual violent attacks and to uphold national security. Safeguarding freedom, and the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law are founding values of NATO.
As the Turkish authorities suppress all criticism of its leaders by labeling them terrorists, NATO member states should be extremely concerned about the extent to which Turkey can be a reliable ally in countering the real threats of terrorism and violent attacks or cooperating successfully in upholding global security.