What Happened to Judicial Reform?
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.
CHP Continues To Battle against the So-Called Education Reform
Republican People’s Party (CHP) has made a second application to Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek to nullify the approval of the education reform bill at a meeting of Parliament’s Education Commission, after examining audio tapes from the stormy meeting, Hurriyet Daily News reports.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, played down the CHP’s drive to have the proceedings nixed, saying that the opposition’s “unlawful requests” cannot stop parliamentary work.
“There are 326 [lawmakers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)] and the figure for the opposition is obvious. The opposition is attempting to dominate those 326 even though it holds only half as many seats. We can’t allow the minority to dominate the majority,” Erdoğan told reporters yesterday.
The row over the education bill has dominated Ankara’s agenda since March 12, when the AKP rushed the draft through the Education Commission in a session marred by unprecedented brawls and squabbles. The tensions erupted after CHP lawmakers found themselves stuck at the door of the tiny room, packed in advance with AKP deputies. The commission’s chairman took advantage of the chaos and hurriedly read out the draft, which was approved by AKP votes in half an hour. The CHP has already asked Çiçek to nullify the proceedings on the grounds that basic procedural rules were violated.
On Monday, CHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair, Muharrem Ince distributed CDs to the press purporting to show Erdoğan and other AKP deputies mobilizing their comrades to disrupt the Education Committee meeting, where several CHP deputies were brutally beaten by AKP thugs. To date, Speaker Çiçek refused to countenance CHP and MHP requests to have the results of the meeting annulled and the controversial bill sent back to the Committee for reconsideration.
Ince continued: “Committee proceedings are public record. Speaker Çiçek could easily ascertain that I asked for permission to speak for 6 times and denied. Here, I submit the record proving I and 45 of my fellow CHP deputies asking for comment on the proceedings in writing. We also submitted visual evidence supporting our claims. Mr. Çiçek must have revived the records, must have seen the video shoot. There is only one honorable option for Speaker Çiçek: to return the bill back to the committee.”
CHP and the other opposition parties fear that AKP will coerce Çiçek to accept the proceedings as valid and AKP will resort to further violence if the bill comes to the general floor. Ince claims that AKP whips have already instructed their deputies to quash any objections to the bill on the floor.
Kilicdaroglu Protests Madimak Hotel Ruling
An Ankara court dropped a high-profile case over the deadly 1993 torching of a Sivas hotel yesterday, ruling that the charges against the suspects exceeded the statute of limitations.
Thousands of people protested the ruling outside the court, and clashes broke out between the police and demonstrators, as lawyers for the families of the victims said they would appeal the ruling.
Commenting on the dropped case, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “Let it be for the best.”
Thirty-three intellectuals and two hotel employees perished during an Alevite cultural festival on July 2, 1993, when an Islamist mob torched the Madimak Hotel in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas. The mob was agitated mainly by the presence of popular atheist writer Aziz Nesin, who was then translating Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.” Two of the arsonists also died.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called the ruling a “disgrace” and said the suspects had gone on to live their lives for years without being caught.
“The [ruling] Justice and Development Party [AKP] is responsible for this. For the most part, it was AKP deputies who worked as lawyers for the perpetrators. They are now in Parliament. I’m sure that the prime minister is saying ‘good, we were saved by the statue of limitations,’” Kilicdaroglu said at his party’s parliamentary group meeting yesterday.
He added: “I am sure Prime Minister Erdogan is happy about it, I am sure he is relieved by the court ruling. This is an affront to humanity, and this is where the polarization of society starts.”
On Monday, deputy chairman Gürsel Tekin pressed the government further on the Madimak Hotel ruling:
“AKP is shedding alligator tears on Sivas(Madimak Hotel case) and detained journalists. Nobody in the media is asking Bulent Arinc (AKP deputy chairman) why he is beating his chest for the Madimak ruling, when CHP offered to amend Articles 66 and 67 of the Turkish Penal Code (citing exemptions to the Statute of Limitations)? If you want to correct this disgrace, we showed you the easy way”.