Turkish PM's call for death penalty sparks controversy among politicians

Turkish PM's call for death penalty sparks controversy among politicians

Remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey might discuss bringing back the death penalty in cases of acts of terror and murder have sparked a heated debate among the country's politicians and human rights associations, Todays Zaman reported.

While some are strongly opposed to reinstating the death penalty, arguing that such a move would damage Turkey's efforts to date for democratization and its bid to join the European Union, some others praised the prime minister's proposal because, they said, the death penalty would help reduce the crime rate in the country.

"This may not be the case for political crimes, but it may be possible, for sure, to discuss [bringing back] the death penalty in connection with crimes of terror and causing the death of people," Erdogan said on Saturday when speaking to journalists.

Turkey abandoned the death penalty in practice in 1984. In 2002, Turkey abolished the death penalty in peacetime as part of a package of reforms aimed at preparing the country for EU membership, and foreswore the practice for all circumstances, including times of war, in 2004.

The death penalty was replaced by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

It was not immediately clear if the prime minister is planning to have his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) prepare a draft law to bring back capital punishment. Grand Unity Party (BBP) Chairman Mustafa Destici said on Monday that his party is going to submit a law proposal to the three main political parties -- the AK Party, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- to urge them to take required steps to re-introduce the death penalty. The BBP supports the idea of bringing back the death penalty for rapists and terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The AK Party, which holds the majority in Parliament, seems unclear for the moment about plans to bring back capital punishment. In what contradicted the prime minister's remarks, AK

Party deputy Burhan Kuzu said his party cannot bring back the punishment because Turkey's aspiration to become a full member of the EU would not allow such a move. "It is not possible to do it [bring back the death penalty] unless we quit the bid for EU membership," he stated.

The main opposition CHP voiced criticism of plans to reinstate the capital punishment. The party's deputy chairman, Gursel Tekin, said the CHP is against the death penalty and added that he does not believe the reinstatement of the penalty will help reduce the crime rate. "Has Iran or Russia been able to reduce the crime rate thanks to capital punishment?" he asked, adding that it is nonsense for a country that is working to join the EU to discuss bringing back the death penalty.

It is not the first time the prime minister raised the possibility of bringing back capital punishment. He spoke about the issue last week, saying the Turkish public is in favor of the reinstatement of capital punishment. His remarks were intended to respond to the demand brought forward by PKK terrorists and supporters, who are currently on a hunger strike in prison, that the jailed leader of the terrorist group, Abdullah Ocalan, be released to house arrest from İmralı Island, where he is presently incarcerated.

According to the MHP, which often voices expectation for the reintroduction of the death penalty, the party does not see Erdogan's remarks as sincere because it believes the remarks were fabricated as part of the AK Party's populist rhetoric.

MHP Parliamentary Group Deputy Chairman Oktay Vural said his party strongly opposed the AK Party when it abolished the death penalty for all circumstances in 2004. "The prime minister is using the death penalty issue in order not to lose the support of his voters whom he recently disappointed through the steps he took in politics," he said, adding that the MHP would support it if the ruling party brings a draft law to Parliament to reintroduce the death penalty for rapists, terrorists and murderers.

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