EU: Ergenekon case opportunity for democracy, rule of law

The European Union’s annual progress report, due to be released next week, applauds investigations into the shadowy Ergenekon network and recent amendments to the Constitution.


The report, a draft of which was obtained in advance by Sunday’s Zaman, however, also notes deficiencies, such as the fact that the constitutional amendments were not preceded by a process of consultation involving political parties and civil society organizations. The report also expresses concerns over the trial process in the Ergenekon case. “The investigation into the alleged criminal network Ergenekon and the probe into several other coup plans remain an opportunity for Turkey to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law. However, proceedings in this context need to respect fully due judicial process and the rights of the defendants,” the draft report states.Commenting on the constitutional changes, the document notes: “Constitutional amendments are a step in the right direction. They address a number of priorities of the Accession Partnership in the area of the judiciary, fundamental rights and public administration. However, the drafting and adoption of these amendments was not preceded by a consultation process involving political parties and civil society. Implementation of the amended constitutional provisions, in line with European standards and in a transparent and inclusive way, will be key.” In a message directed at the Turkish government, the European Commission noted that further changes to the legislation, in particular regarding the protection of fundamental rights, is necessary, although key reforms relevant to the accession process were included in the package of amendments to the Constitution. “The special legislative procedure for EU reforms in parliament has not been adopted, in order to expedite its work related to Turkey’s accession,” the document says, adding: “After a significant slowdown in the reform agenda over the last few years, the government put forward a number of key constitutional reforms and specific measures, albeit of limited scope. The strained relations between key state bodies are continuing to have a negative impact on the smooth functioning of political institutions.” The draft progress report voices the importance of the Ergenekon case with regards to democratization, but also warns Turkey at the same time about the proliferation of court cases against journalists for their coverage of the Ergenekon case. “The large number of cases initiated against journalists who have reported on the Ergenekon case is a cause for concern. They face prosecutions and trials for violating the principle of confidentiality of an ongoing judicial process. This could result in self-censorship,” it says. Many journalists are facing trial on charges of violating the secrecy of investigations and interfering with a fair trial under Articles 285 and 288 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which appear to have replaced the infamous Article 301 as a main threat against freedom of speech, following an amendment to the latter. Prosecution under Article 301 has almost stopped after it was made compulsory to obtain permission from the justice minister to initiate a court case under this article.
  Civilian oversight and judiciary
 
While the EU’s concerns about the administrative capacity of Turkey’s Parliament in several fields, including executive-legislative relations and parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, are highlighted in the draft, the progress for the civilian oversight of security forces is welcomed. The European Commission stressed that “senior members of the armed forces have continued to make statements beyond their remit, in particular on judicial issues.” The EU executive took note of progress that has been made in reforming the judiciary, particularly citing the continuation of the implementation of the 2009 judicial reform strategy by way of some of the central pillars of the strategy being put in place via the amendments to the Constitution. “The adoption of the amendments to the Constitution on the structure of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors as well as the limitation of the authority of military courts is a positive step. However, the Minister of Justice still chairs the High Council and has the last word on investigations. Attention needs to be paid to establishing an effective dialogue with all stakeholders and to implementing these reforms in accordance with European standards and in an open, transparent and inclusive way,” the document says.
  Human rights and protection of minorities
 
Human rights and the protection of minorities are covered widely in the draft progress report, with positive notes about the observance of international human rights law, the implementation of the prison reform program, the continuation and expansion of open and free debate, broad conformity by the legal framework on freedom of association with EU standards and general respect for freedom of worship. However, despite all of those issues where progress is welcomed by the EU, the draft report also notes some concerns. The report states: “Legislation on human rights’ institutions needs to be brought fully in line with UN principles. Health services in prisons need to be improved. The frequent website bans are a cause for concern. Undue political pressures on the media and legal uncertainties affect the exercise of freedom of the press in practice. Some demonstrations in the Southeast of the country related to the Kurdish issue continued to be marked by police violence. A legal framework in line with the European Court of Human Rights has yet to be established, so that all non-Muslim religious communities and the Alevi community can function without undue constraints, including the training of clergy.”
  Cyprus monitoring to continue
 
The European Commission repeated its criticism of Turkey’s failure to comply with a 2005 deal — known as the Ankara Protocol — to open up its ports to Greek Cyprus, but also took note of the Turkish government’s public support of UN-led negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. “Turkey still has not complied with its obligation of full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement. Turkey has made no progress towards normalizing bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. It continues to veto [Greek] Cyprus’ membership of several international organizations and of the Wassenaar Arrangement on export controls for conventional arms exports and dual-use goods. The Commission will continue to monitor closely and specifically report on all issues covered by the declaration of the European Community and its Member States of 21 September 2005,” the draft report says.

 



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