Turkey / Sue Ashton
Overview of the Republic of Turkey and its Health System
The Republic of Turkey is a ‘democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law’, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan is both the head of the state and head of government. Turkey’s current population is 82 million, with a GDP per capita of 9,370.2 USD. Current health expenditure is 1,227 USD per capita equal to %4.31 of the GDP, and its healthcare system includes public, semi-public and private organisations. According to the Ministry of Health’s statistics, the number of doctors is 86,332, and there are 1,514 hospitals which have 33,063 beds in intensive care units and 206,157 in total. Overall, its health system provides 2.8 hospital beds, 1.9 doctors, 2.1 nurses and 0.2 ventilators per 1000 people.
Since 11 March 2020, Turkey has been combatting Covid-19. 1,440,671 tests were performed as of 12 May 2020, while 98,889 of 141,475 cases recovered. 3,894 people lost their lives. When we compare Turkey to other countries in terms of the fight against the Covid-19, it seems successful by numbers thanks to effective policies of the Coronavirus Science Committee, which consists of the most prominent scientists and academics. However, the pandemic is more than a health phenomenon; it also has economic, political and social effects caused by the government’s policies and activities.
Covid-19 and the Violation of Civil and Political Rights
After the first case, the government took action to stop the spread of the virus through restrictive measures such as the closure of schools, travel restrictions, and compulsory quarantine of people who come from abroad at dormitories run by the state. Curfews were imposed at different times but mostly at weekends. Doing exercise at the seaside and parks has been banned despite its significance on mental and physical health.
Additionally, Turkey’s Parliament passed a law, which allows ‘certain categories of convicted prisoners to qualify for an earlier release or to be transferred to house arrest’, on 13 April 2020. In the framework of fighting against the pandemic, this is a vital step to reduce the numbers of prisoners in overcrowded jails and protect the vulnerable because of their age or poor health conditions. However, the new law exempts several prisoners, including academics, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, opposition politicians, because their sentences are under anti-terrorism laws for crimes against the state. Prisoners in pre-trial detention, which became a routine in Turkey regardless of the principle of presumption of innocence, cannot benefit from release.
On 14 April 2020, President Erdogan made a speech about the new law, and mentioned, briefly: ‘We developed democracy, economy and substructure in Turkey but justice has a special place for us. Our judicial reform strategy is one of the most important parts of the process of creating a new Turkey.’, and ‘The new execution regulation has been prepared by taking into consideration of the people’s and public conscience’s sensitivities.’. The last statement looks like an ‘appeal to higher loyalty’ as a neutralisation technique (Sykes and Matza 1957; Cohen 1993) to argue their actions are reasonable. Other statements also reflect the ‘concealment of their continuing abuses behind a façade of reform’ (and see, Ward and Green 2000). But excluding political prisoners from release, by knowing that some of them are older or ill (see also here), would cause serious human rights violations in terms of the right to live, right to health and equality. In the light of those concerns, ‘the discriminatory nature of the new measures’ has been labelled by human rights and freedom of expression NGOs. They made a joint public statement (see also another joint NGO statement related to the topic) urging the government to respect the principle of non-discrimination in the actions taken to diminish the severe health risk in prisons.
Moreover, repression has been continuing amid the pandemic most severely. In the South East region, the government purged elected mayors and appointed five more trustees to different municipalities. Press also has been suppressed; Fox TV was fined three times (see also here), and journalists faced an investigation after the criminal complaint of the President (see here). Agents of the Ministry of Interior examined 3,576 social media accounts and 229 people were arrested due to ‘their provocative posts’. Meanwhile, the Parliament has been on holiday during the pandemic since there was no urgency according to the President of the Assembly (see also here) even though people are in very need of democracy in Turkey.
Covid-19 and the Violation of Economic and Social Rights
One of the actions towards curb the spread of the virus was to close shops, restaurants/bars, sports centres, theatres/cinemas and saloons temporarily. Therefore, 149,382 businesses have stopped to work, and their employees have been sent on unpaid holiday or lost their jobs. Many more daily wage workers like house cleaners and street-food sellers have been affected by the Covid-19 measures. According to the Turkish Employment Agency’s April 2020 report, the number of unemployment is 3,629,958, which is about %13.7 of the labour force. In front of the employment agency, people have been queuing every day. One of them, when a journalist asked, said that they had to survive by only 3 liras (0.36 pounds) per day as a family of 5 (see also here). While living conditions have been already harsh for many members of society in Turkey (see also here), the pandemic has put millions of people in a more profound economic struggle. By the words of the main opposition leader, it is an ‘economic depression’.
Fighting against economic effects of the pandemic, opposition Mayors of Istanbul and Ankara launched a fundraising campaign to help people who cannot work. However, on 30 March 2020, the President started a ‘National Solidarity’ campaign so that the state is the pioneer of fundraising campaigns. He also added that citizens, who are planning to donate during the Ramadan, did not need to wait and can do it in advance through the campaign. In the same speech, he declared government economic aid by way of several loans and 1,000 liras (119.14 pounds) to each of 2 million families (one family consists of 3.35 people on average). After the speech, the government has prohibited the municipal fundraising campaigns as illegal, and the collected money has been blocked on 31 March 2020.
As of 18 May 2020, over 2 billion liras have been given to the government’s campaign, and the most significant donations were from the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey and other state banks. Then, the government’s economic support varied and enlarged according to their claims. The Minister of Economy, who is the son-in-law of the President, claimed that they provided over 22 billion liras complimentary support to 3 million 977 thousand citizens and total financial aid was 200 billion liras as of 25 April 2020. However, the President declared that ‘in last two months we gave 11,5 billion liras as complimentary cash support to around 10 million citizens’ on 18 May 2020. Those contradictory statements and people’s continuing suffering increase doubts over the actuality of the government’s support and transparency.
In conclusion, the pandemic affected Turkey in many ways like other countries. Millions of people have been suffering because of the shattered economy (see currency crisis and also here) and democracy. However, instead of fighting against ‘economic depression’ and the pandemic, the President spent much of his energy into confronting the opposition and covering up the truth by quoting ‘internal and external threats’ (see also here).
Cohen, S. (1993) ‘Human Rights and Crimes of the State: The Culture of Denial’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 26, 97-115.
Sykes, G. and Matza, D. (1957) ‘Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency’, American Sociological Review, 22, 664-70.
Ward, T. and Green, P. (2000) ‘Legitimacy, Civil Society and State Crime’, Social Justice, 27, 76-93.