Turkey mulls return of death penalty, with EU membership bid at stake

In Taksim Square and on the streets of Istanbul, people are hanging effigies from a noose as they chant "we want the death penalty," demonstrating against the weekend's failed coup attempt and in support of the government.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he would sign a law allowing the use of capital punishment if it came to his desk from parliament, in the form of a constitutional amendment.

The country abolished capital punishment in 2004, as it intensified its bid to join the European Union.

Introducing the death penalty could be the death knell of Turkey's bid to join the EU, as the bloc is vehemently opposed to capital punishment.

Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spelled it out on Monday: "We categorically reject the death penalty. A country that has the death penalty cannot be an EU member."

But the rhetoric has changed as Turkey considers punishment for the coup plotters.

"Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons, for years to come? That's what the people say," Erdogan told CNN. "They want a swift end to it."

For Turks with a long memory, this sounded familiar.

After the successful 1980 military coup, led by general Kenan Evren, hundreds of thousands of people were jailed in a stifling crackdown, which included a ban on all political parties. Hundreds died in jail and about 50 people were executed.

"Should we not hang them, but feed them?" Evren asked at the time. He died last year, a largely despised figure for many in Turkey.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has urged supporters to refrain from taking revenge amid isolated incidents of lynchings, shown in videos posted on social media.

But at the same time, Yildirim says life imprisonment may not be sufficient and adds that the people's will must be respected.

To bring back the death penalty, Turkey will need to pass a constitutional amendment, after having changed Article 38 of the key charter in 2004. In practice, capital punishment has not been used since 1984.

To change the constitution, a two-third majority is needed. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) controls 316 seats in the 550 member parliament.

The far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) says it supports bringing back the death penalty. But even with its 40 seats, the measure would be just shy of the number of votes needed.

However, the two parties together would be able to force a referendum on the amendment, which then requires a simple majority of the population to pass.

Last update: Tue, 19/07/2016 - 14:26
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