After the failed coup attempt of July 15 by a faction in the Turkish military orchestrated by the fugitive imam Fethullah Gülen, the discussion about reinstating the death penalty has become a major topic in Turkish politics. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested on Tuesday that he is ready to reinstate the death penalty if the people demand it and Parliament approves the necessary legislation. "In democracies, decisions are made based on what the people say. I think our government will speak with the opposition and come to a decision," Erdoğan said to a large crowd chanting: "We want the death penalty," on Tuesday evening in Istanbul. "We hear your request. In a democracy, whatever the people want, they will get." he said.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting on Monday in Ankara, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said: "Turkey is a state of law, we engage in politics for our people," but added that it is not wise to rush to a decision on capital punishment while the developments are still recent. "These issues will be extensively discussed, as it requires constitutional reform. We cannot either accept or reject this demand outright," Yıldırım said.
The death penalty in Turkey was abolished in 2004, although Turkey had not actually executed any prisoners since October 1984. Speaking to Daily Sabah on Tuesday, the chairman of Parliament's Justice Commission, Ahmet İyimaya, did not rule out the possibility of reinstating the death penalty. "Turkey is still under an unprecedented threat. Our aim is to avert this crisis and law is an indispensable weapon in this fight," İyimaya said. "The reforms regarding the current laws should be discussed only after this existing threat is eliminated. Instead of individual opinions, the collective wisdom of the legislative and the executive [branches] is crucial. It is definite that Turkey, with its 2,000 years of experience, will decide for the best." he added.
Cem Duran Uzun, a constitutional lawyer and director of Law and Human Rights at the Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation (SETA) in Ankara, however, stressed the difficulties of reinstating the death penalty. "There are many conventions prohibiting capital punishment, which were signed by Turkey. The re-implementation of capital punishment is also challenging due to international agreements. The Council of Europe, co-founded by Turkey, also prohibits this type of punishment," Duran said. "Moreover, the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] completely removed capital punishment clauses from the Constitution in 2004. As a side note, even though clauses existed in the constitution and certain laws for a long time, since 1984, none of the court decisions for capital punishment were rejected by Parliament."
Constitutional law academic from Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara Dr. Taylan Barın said that the Constitution should be reformed to re-implement capital punishment. "Probably there will be a referendum regarding this reform. If the political parties and the people continue to support the re-implementation of capital punishment, it might be possible," Barın said.
Regarding retroactive punishment, Barın affirmed that this could be possible if the capital punishment still extent in military law is put into practice. "In the military penal code, with the 20th clause, capital punishment is possible. However, as the Constitution does not have a similar clause, this became obsolete. If there is a new constitutional amendment that approves capital punishment, this clause of the military penal code might be re-introduced," Barın said. Moreover, Barın signified that the re-introduction of capital punishment could have certain repercussions in the international community. "The political administration will try to achieve a balance between the people and the international community. If they chance the repercussions, they might re-introduce capital punishment."
Meanwhile, a number of EU officials have voiced concerns over the discussion. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday that re-instating the death penalty in Turkey would end EU accession talks. "Turkey is an important part of the Council of Europe and is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which is very clear on the death penalty," she said. "The introduction of the death penalty would mean the immediate suspension of accession talks," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz shared the same sentiment. "The introduction of the death penalty would of course be absolutely unacceptable," Kurz said in an interview with the Austrian Kurier newspaper on Monday.