When George W. Bush proclaimed his “War on Terror” more than a decade ago, there was some concern in the USA and its allies that the war might not be confined to fighting actual terrorists overseas and could also be directed against ordinary dissenters at home.
For that reason, civil liberties groups were particularly concerned about any “anti-terror” legislation that could be seen as curtailing human rights.
The good news is that the democratic rights we had pre-2001 are largely intact in countries like the USA and the UK. The intelligence services no doubt have larger budgets and electronic spying on all of us has probably increased, but the fears of an all-powerful “national security state” emerging have thankfully not been realized.
It’s not as if armed riot police would storm Unison’s headquarters on the Euston Road, arresting hundreds of activists, accusing Dave Prentis of “terrorism” because he’d spoken out against some government policy.
But that’s precisely what’s happening today in Turkey, one of the junior partners in the US-led “war on terror”.
Two weeks ago, police stormed the Ankara headquarters of KESK, the public sector union, arresting over 100 activists. Over 160 arrest warrants were issued. Fifty were arrested in Istanbul. The teachers union Egitim Sen was also subjected to a wave of arrests.
The leaders of KESK and Egitim Sen were accused of involvement with terrorism.
The arrests were, it was claimed, part of an investigation into a suicide bomber’s attack on the US embassy in Ankara at the end of January in which one guard (and the bomber) were killed.
We have to admit that Turkey does in fact suffer from a lot of political violence — on all sides.
Kurdish fighters of the PKK, far-leftists angry at the USA and Israel, and others have from time to time engaged in horrific violence. So has the Turkish state.
It’s not like the Turkish government is making up the idea of “terrorism”.
The problem is that it appears to be using a genuine security situation to justify attacks on organisations that it doesn’t like for other reasons, such as unions of teachers and other public sector workers.
This is, of course, reminiscent of the McCarthy era in the USA when the genuine threat of Stalinist domination of Europe was used to justify a crackdown on any form of dissent.
In Turkey, the organization the government is blaming for the US embassy bombing is known as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP/C. The DHKP/C is listed by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
But KESK is not. And Egitim Sen is not. And it’s an important distinction.
Amnesty International says it “has long campaigned against the abuse of Turkey’s overly broad and vague anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate peaceful activities.”
Note that Amnesty isn’t saying Turkey shouldn’t combat terrorism. It’s saying that the laws are overly broad and vague. And they’re being abused by the state to persecute legitimate dissenters, like the unions.
Unions around the world have rallied to the defence of KESK and Egitim Sen.
The Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation, representing 175 million organised workers, was the first to issue a strong statement. They were followed by the global union federations for public sector and education workers, Public Services International and the Education International.
All three groups have teamed up to launch an appeal on LabourStart which has been signed — so far — by over 8,000 trade unionists.
• LabourStart campaign here