ANKARA: Turkey has blasted as “unacceptable” the awarding of a top European human rights prize to an outspoken Turkish judge arrested in an investigation into last year’s failed coup plot.
The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, named after the great dissident playwright in communist Czechoslovakia who later became Czech president, is given by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a pan-European rights body.
The prize, worth 60,000 euros ($70,700), was awarded on Monday to the Turkish judge Murat Arslan, who was head of the Association for the Union of Judges and Prosecutors (YARSAV).
Arslan was arrested in October 2016 on suspicion of links to the organisation of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara blames for the failed coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey accuses Gulen of leading the so-called Fethullah Terror Group (FETO) but the Muslim cleric denies the charges.
The YARSAV, which had been vehemently critical of the authorities, was shut down by the government under a state of emergency imposed after the coup bid.
The PACE described Arslan as a “staunch supporter of the independence of the judiciary.”
But the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that it “is wrong and unacceptable to award the prize… to a person who is a member of FETO terrorist organisation”.
It said “such a mistake” has “seriously damaged the credibility” of the PACE which should be the “defender of the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law”, it said.
“While the judicial process is underway, presenting a terrorism suspect as a human rights defender is a betrayal of the ideals of democracy and human rights,” it said.
“Such an approach serves no purpose but aiding the circles that support terrorism,” it added.
In his absence, the prize was received by a representative of the European Magistrates for Democracy and Freedom group (MEDEL) which had nominated him.
Thousands of Turkish judges and prosecutors have lost their jobs in the purge under the state of emergency that remains in place.
In a message from jail, Arslan told the ceremony that Turkey had “learnt nothing” from Europe’s 20th century history but “we will not let ourselves be closed up in a wall of fear”.
Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950 but relations have frayed after the PACE in April voted to reopen political monitoring of the country.