The oppressive regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has nominated a person with a poor human rights record for membership on the UN Human Rights Committee.
According to UN documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Hacı Ali Açıkgül, head of the human rights department at Turkey's Justice Ministry since 2015, was officially nominated to become one of nine new members of the Human Rights Committee.
If elected, Açıkgül will replace a member whose term is due to expire on December 31, 2022.
Açıkgül, a loyalist and partisan official in the Erdoğan regime, hushed up cases of torture and abuse in Turkey's detention and prison facilities where many people, including journalists, human rights defenders and activists, were subjected to harsh treatment.
The widespread and systematic practice of torture and abuse is approved by the Erdoğan government as part of an intimidation campaign to silence critical and independent voices in Turkey. Complaints of rights abuse fell on deaf ears, while officials who were involved in ill-treatment and torture were granted impunity.
He issued opinions to challenge complaints filed by victims with the Constitutional Court on violation of fundamental human rights and secretly and illegally coordinated with judges and prosecutors to ensure the continuous imprisonment of government critics. He defended the Erdoğan government in cases brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
Açıkgül used his position in the department not only to bury torture and abuse allegations and complaints but also helped whitewash them when queried by organizations such as the Council of Europe.
The election for the Human Rights Committee will be held on June 17, 2022 in New York, and Açıkgül is one of 16 candidates to replace nine members of the committee whose terms will expire at the end of the year. The committee has 18 members in total.
According to the UN, committee members must be independent experts who are persons of high moral character and have recognized competence in the field of human rights. Açıkgül is neither independent nor a person of high moral character.
If Açıkgül is elected, he will keep his seat on the UN committee for four years. The committee was established pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Nordic Monitor previously published a classified Turkish government document that showed how Açıkgül tried to manipulate the cases of jailed journalists when pressed by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers.
In the document Açıkgül privately acknowledged Turkey had jailed dozens of journalists even though he publicly stood by the official line denying the imprisonment of any journalist.
The document, dated July 2, 2020 and signed by Açıkgül, listed 68 journalists imprisoned in Istanbul alone. He was asking the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office to provide details on the cases of imprisoned and prosecuted journalists.
The number of journalists who were imprisoned and prosecuted in other provinces across Turkey is not listed in the Justice Ministry document. Presumably Açıkgül also wrote letters to prosecutors in other provinces for details of jailed journalists' cases there as well, but Nordic Monitor was unable to obtain copies of those letters.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom's "Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey" database, 161 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large. The database was last updated on November 17, 2021.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government officials have publicly and repeatedly denied that there are journalists in Turkish prisons. Speaking at a campaign rally in Denizli province on December 15, 2018, Erdoğan said: "The lie that many journalists are in prison is constantly put to us. There is no such thing." He added that those who make an issue out of this harbor hostility to Turkey and the Turkish nation.
The document detailed how the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe's decision-making body, has pressed Turkey for the implementation of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments in 66 recent cases that involved violations of freedom of expression.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.