Turkey’s Death Penalty Debate Demonstrates Waning EU Influence

Proposals to reintroduce the death penalty in Turkey after the murder of a young woman could place it on a collision course with the European Union, while demonstrating how little hold the bloc has left over Turkey’s policy debate.

Turkish officials including the economy minister, the head of parliament’s judicial committee and the lawmaker chosen by the ruling party to rewrite the nation’s constitution all advocated the reintroduction of the death penalty in response to the murder. The debate was sparked by the discovery of the body of Ozgecan Aslan, a university student from the Mediterranean coastal city of Mersin, which led to nationwide protests about violence against women over the weekend.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday that he would do “whatever it takes” to ensure such incidents don’t recur, without naming specific proposals. Turkey banned the death penalty in all cases in 2004 as part of its negotiations to join the EU, for which abolishment is a prerequisite to accession.

“The focus of the government should be on preventing cases from happening and not punishing the excessive cases after they happen,” Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said by phone today from Rotterdam. “While the accession process can help to ensure better respect for the rights of all people in Turkey, were it to come into force such a proposal sets Turkey another step back from the EU.”

Turkey’s been in formal negotiations to join the European bloc for a decade. In recent years progress towards that goal has slowed on resistance from both sides. In a press conference last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that while the process was ongoing, “it does not really matter whether they accept Turkey’s accession,” according to comments reported by Daily Sabah on Jan. 24.

Street Protests

The burnt body of Aslan, 20, was discovered on Friday with her hands cut off, according to Haberturk newspaper. Police had found bloodstains in a minbus she’d been riding home in a few days earlier. The driver said in a police statement he’d stabbed her after she resisted his attempts to rape her, Haberturk said, citing the statement.

News of the death sparked demonstrations in 37 of Turkey’s cities, Haberturk said. Women across the nation wore black to work on Monday in protest.

“For vicious murder cases like this, and only for these situations, the death penalty is a must at the discretion of the judge,” Burhan Kuzu, a ruling party parliament member who’s tasked with writing a new constitution, said in a posting on Twitter. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci also said capital punishment should be brought back, while Ahmet Iyimaya, head of parliament’s justice committee, said the option should be debated for sexual assualts ending in death of the victim.

EU Minister

While Erdogan didn’t explicitly call for the death penalty after the Aslan case, he has done so several times in the past. In May last year, he said: “Turkey has a problem because we lifted the death penalty during the EU process.”

Volkan Bozkir, Turkey’s minister in charge of European affairs, said he understands the impulse.

“If it were my own daughter, I’d take a gun, give out the penalty myself and suffer the consequences,” Bozkir said, according to a report in the state-run Anadolu Agency on Monday. “But the reaction of states can’t be like that.”

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