OTTAWA — The head of a visiting delegation of Turkish lawmakers says his country will not retroactively impose the death penalty on plotters of last month’s botched coup attempt.
Dr. Kani Torum, deputy chair of the Turkish parliament’s foreign relations committee, also says his country is very disappointed in Western allies — including Canada — for criticizing his government’s tough response to the July 15 uprising.
Almost 18,000 people, most from the military, have been detained or arrested, while tens of thousands of people have been suspended from various government sectors, academia and journalism for having alleged ties to the masterminds.
The Turkish government accuses the Gulen movement of being behind the botched coup, and is targeting followers of its Muslim leader, Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in the United States.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he would welcome a return of the death penalty, a possibility that has been condemned by several European countries as well as by Stephane Dion, Canada’s foreign affairs minister.
At Sunday’s huge rally in Istanbul, intended as a strong national display of solidarity, Erdogan again said he would support the return of capital punishment.
However, even if Turkey’s parliament did introduce legislation to bring back the death penalty, it wouldn’t apply retroactively to those charged in the coup, Torum said Monday during a meeting with Canadian journalists in Ottawa.
There may be widespread public support for such measures now, but that could dissipate by the autumn, when Turkey’s parliament would have the next opportunity to address the issue, he added.
“Even if there is a death penalty after this time, it cannot apply retrospectively,” Torum said.
He said Turks are “very emotional” in the wake of the attempted coup, which was staged by renegade members of the military using tanks, fighter jets and helicopters and which claimed the lives of some 270 people.
When Turkey’s parliament reconvenes in two months, “I don’t think this issue will be the hot issue in Turkey.”
Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of its attempt to join the European Union. European officials have said that if Turkey brings it back that would shut the door to joining the EU.
The delegation of five MPs, which included two of Turkey’s opposition parties, has toured several countries in the wake of the coup attempt to counter what it says is the propaganda of the Gulen movement.
The lawmakers say that since 2012, Gulen’s followers have propagated the false notion that Erdogan is an anti-democratic strongman, so that’s why they’re touring Western countries to set the record straight.
Torum called the Gulen movement a “messianic cult” and an “ISIS-like organization” that has brainwashed people.
And that’s a point that he accused Turkey’s closest allies of missing.
“This is the biggest disappointment (of) the Turkish people, I tell you — this is their feelings,” said Torum.
“When the bombings happened in France, in Britain, Germany — wherever — we always support them. We always work with them — and in Brussels. But this time, we did not get any support.”
‘We stand together’
Izzet Ulvi Yonter, an opposition party member, said his country’s politicians have set aside domestic partisan concerns following July 15 — something he said occurred in Canada after the October 2014 attacks that killed two Canadian Forces members in Ottawa and Quebec.
“Think for a moment what happened in Canada after the terror attacks on Parliament Hill and in Quebec. Remember those days and how the country and the parties reacted, together to these attacks,” said Yonter.
“As an opposition party, we stand together with our government and our state.”
Turkey has been pushing the U.S. to allow Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, to be extradited to Turkey to face trial. Gulen denies any connection to the attempted coup.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said his country will need to see greater proof of Gulen’s involvement. That’s a position Dion recently echoed when he revealed the government has rebuffed Turkish requests both before the coup and after to provide unspecified information on Gulen movement’s activities in Canada.
Torum said Kerry will get a more detailed briefing on Gulen when he visits Turkey later this summer.
“We are presenting the case,” he said.