On Monday, yet another special prosecutor launched an inquiry into the statements of released journalist Ahmet Şik, claiming defamation of judiciary. Şik had said “Those who put us behind the bars without cause shall suffer the same fate”. This development was fully expected. Last week, media outlets financed by the conservative religious groups had instigated a campaign against the release of journalists. Mr. Huseyin Gulerce of ZAMAN claimed that the pro-Ergenekon front was rebuilding support using the verdict in the Madimak Hotel case, the faulty convictions in the Hrant Dink murder and the release of Sener and Sik. He advised redoubled vigilance. Another conservative front, Samanyolu TV featured several analysts who recommended re-arresting Nedim Sener for his statement.
Also on Monday, the prosecutor unveiled the KCK terror case, which among other things charged famed academic Prof Busra Ersanli as “the leader of the education arm of the terror organization”. If convicted, Busra Ersanli faces 15 years in prison.
The renewed crack-down on dissidents, journalists and academics is taking place in an environment, where deputy premier Babacan could complain “Either the people’s lives are ruined because justice has not been realized, or you put the people in jail and they stay there for years without knowing what the verdict would be. They are not convicts.”
It is obvious that certain segments in the judiciary are outside of the parliamentary control and abuse the letter and spirit of the law to continue a witch hunt that underminesTurkey’s human rights record. The solution is judicial reform. Strangely enough, AKP delayed the much-advertised judicial reform bills, preferring to push the education bill ahead. This may be because AKP’s proposals were found completely unconvincing by ECHR and EU experts at large:
“Turkey’s government has a less than saintly reputation when it comes to tossing people in jail, media workers in particular it seems. About100 are currently in cells, one for a thousand days without trial. According to the leading indexes of press freedom Turkey is not far from the bottom.
Last week a Turkish court released four media workers accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. UnderTurkey’s current anti-terrorism law a person committing an offense – hanging a banner, attending a demonstration or writing an article, for example – appearing to support an officially recognized terrorist organization “shall be punished as a member of the organization.”Turkeyhas the unenviable reputation as the country with most locked up media workers, noted WAN-IFRA welcoming the release (March 15).)
Milliyet reporter Nedim Sener and three others had been incarcerated pending trial for more than a year. They were charged with collaboration with a web news portal associated with the ultra-nationalist group Ergenekon. Sener’s exposé on the official investigation of journalist/editor Hrant Dink’s murder led to Turkish intelligence service officers filing complaints and, thereafter, a 2010 award by the International Press Institute (IPI) as Press Freedom Hero.
“The gradually increasing pressure from the EU and foreign media had a great effect on today’s decision,” said opposition politician Ilhan Cihaner, quoted by Reuters (March 12). In 2010 the ECHR fined the Turkish government €133,000 for failing to protect the life of Hrant Dink.
Turkish media workers – and others – regularly appeal for relief to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Newspaper columnist Erbin Tusalp won a decision at the ECHR (February 21), overturning a Turkish court ruling that he’d insulted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Tusalp applied to the ECHR after the Turkish Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
“It was true that Mr. Tusalp had used a satirical style to convey his strong criticism,” said the ECHR statement. “In that context, the Court underlined that the protection of Article 10 (freedom of expression) was applicable not only to information or ideas that were favorably received but also to those which offended, shocked or disturbed. Consequently, the Court could not find that the strong remarks highlighted by the Turkish courts could be construed as a gratuitous personal attack against the Prime Minister.”
Appeals brought by Turkish media workers literally dot the ECHR calendar. Last December ECHR judge Ayse Isil Karakas, who is Turkish, criticized various Turkish laws and practices with respect to media and human rights in an interview with NTV. Turkey has the highest number of human rights violations among Council of Europe Member States.
The pressure seems to be having an effect. “We are trying to create an internal legislation system in order to decrease the number of cases that are taken to the ECHR by Turkish citizens,” said Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin at a press conference (March 16), noting that judicial reforms would necessarily include press freedom. “We want to solve these kinds of cases inTurkeyif possible. If the ECHR accepts this, we will form a legal commission and look for a consensus in this commission before cases are taken to the ECHR.”
“This (Tusalp v Turkey) judgment must be placed in the broader context of the worrying series of violations of Article 10 by Turkey, now symbolized by the Turkish Prime Minister successfully taking defamation proceedings against a journalist to curtail press criticism, with the Turkish courts again blatantly failing to apply the Court’s case law on criticizing political figures,” observed Ghent University media law and human rights scholars Dirk Voorhoof and Rónán ó Fathaigh in the strassburgobservers.com blog that monitors the ECHR (February 23). “A very awkward situation for a country that has been a member for 60 years of the Council of Europe and of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
CHP proposed its own judicial reform draft that not only addresses the shortcoming of the criminal approach to terror, but aims to improve democracy at large. AKP’s proposal aims to reduce the sentences without narrowing the scope of acts considered “criminal”. CHP’s proposal in contrast eliminates a broad range of political activities currently considered “aiding and abetting terror” from the statute books.
A copy of CHP deputy and member of the Constitution Conciliation Commission Mr Rıza Türmen’s paper on CHP’s judiciary proposals can be found in the link.