Turkey’s human rights report in 2010 not perfect but promising

ERCAN YAVUZ
ANKARA

Protestors in front of the Bak?rköy Courthouse make a statement to the press about police officers who allegedly beat activist Engin Çeber to death in ?stanbul’s Metris Prison, in this photo from April 12, 2010.

Turkey’s performance with regards to human rights continued to improve this year but violations were not completely eliminated in 2010. As a result of the “zero tolerance for torture” policy adopted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) eight years ago, the number of maltreatment and torture cases at prisons and police stations continued to decrease significantly in 2010.
The biggest move with respect to human rights made by the government in 2010 was the 26-article constitutional reform package approved in a referendum on Sept. 12. Amendments made to two articles of the Constitution granted significant rights to women, children, the elderly, veterans and relatives of soldiers who were killed in clashes with terrorists.

Affirmative action for women, the disabled and children was constitutionally guaranteed with the changes. The changes also removed immunity from prosecution for the engineers of the 1980 coup. Kenan Evren, the chief of General Staff who seized power and became president, is 93 and in poor health. Hundreds of people who have been hoping for the trial of Evren and his accomplices filed criminal complaints against them at prosecutor’s offices. Following the constitutional changes approved on Sept. 12, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors’ (HSYK) decisions have also been opened to judicial review, and judges and prosecutors dismissed by the board in the future will be able to file lawsuits against the HSYK. The amendments also make the military more accountable to civilian courts. In another move, which could be seen as the first concrete outcome of the government’s democratic initiative, a new law introducing restrictions on sentences for minors convicted of throwing stones at security forces in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast came into effect in July. The law, commonly known as the “law for stone-throwing children,” made changes to the Counterterrorism Law (TMK) and various others, ensuring that judges do not give unjust sentences to minors involved in pro-terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) demonstrations. Some courts had been criticized for overly harsh sentences of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for children participating in such demonstrations. Nearly 248 children were released from prison after the amendment came into force.

Long detention periods

The strongest criticism against Turkey in the field of human rights is excessive detention periods. Detention periods have been an issue of controversy for a long time but have drawn much criticism during the Ergenekon investigation. Ergenekon is a suspected clandestine network within the state that aimed to create chaos and incite an eventual military takeover. Dozens of its alleged members, including those from the media, academia and the business world, are currently in jail pending trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Ergenekon hearings have been taking place since October 2008. Critics of the case argue that the trial is taking longer than necessary, forcing suspects to spend more time in custody than they would otherwise have to. According to official statistics, there are 59,759 convicted prisoners in Turkey. Of those, 3,361 are in prison on charges of terrorism and 3,886 are in prison for involvement in illegal organizations. The rest are in prison for petty crimes. The number of people in prison awaiting trial is similar, at 52,512 people who are currently under arrest, mostly for petty crimes.

According to data from the Human Rights Association (?HD), in 2010 32 people died in prison, while 28 others died in clashes with security forces. Nine unsolved murders were committed in 2010 and six people died by stepping on mines. Official records show that 39 journalists remained under arrest in 2010 while 12 newspapers and magazines were banned from publication, fewer than in previous years. A total of 790 people were fined in rulings against freedom of expression while 1,485 were sentenced to prison. Turkey’s human rights performance has improved when compared with previous years but there are still many deficiencies here.

Human rights award to PM

Meanwhile on Nov. 30, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an received the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights for his “distinguished service to humanity,” which he said will further encourage him to fight for human rights. The Turkish prime minister said during the award ceremony that he will continue to protect the rights of people in the Middle East and all around the world, adding that Turkey is calling for peace on a global scale through the Alliance of Civilizations initiative under the United Nations.


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