Legal amendments to be made for conscientious objectors

September 08, 2009, Tuesday/ 16:39:00/ ERCAN YAVUZ
Turkey, which does not legally recognize the right to conscientious objection, is now pondering making legal amendments to address these objectors due to ongoing cases against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Conscientious objectors can currently be punished with up to one year's imprisonment in accordance with the Military Penal Code (ACK) in Turkey. The ECtHR had previously ruled that Turkey violated the rights of conscientious objectors in three different cases and asked Turkey to make necessary regulations to protect objectors' rights. According to a draft prepared by jurists at the Defense Ministry, the ministry is now considering creating regulations regarding conscientious objectors.

According to the amendment planned on the issue, those refusing to perform compulsory military service will no longer be forcibly drafted to the military while they are under detention and will be able to be defended by a lawyer while being tried. They will also be able to benefit from the Probation Law.

Since 1989, 74 people have refused to perform compulsory military service in Turkey. Only six of them have been tried for being a conscientious objector or sent to the military unit they were assigned to after being captured. The European Union strongly opposes both Turkey's laws sentencing conscientious objectors to prison terms and its trial procedures while trying conscientious objectors.

In addition to the warnings of the ECtHR and the EU, the Constitutional Court last year asked the government to draft a regulation to allow conscientious objectors to serve their sentence at home under supervision. Consequently, the Justice Ministry recently decided to amend the Probation Law to allow objectors to benefit from it.

A high-level official from the Defense Ministry, preferring to remain anonymous, told Today's Zaman that additional proposed amendments to the ACK have also been presented to the Justice Ministry.

The exclusion of court members who are not jurists is among the changes proposed. With an amendment to the law on military trial procedure, the article on appointing officers to military court boards will be abolished.

In accordance with the proposed amendment, Military Court complexes will be excluded from military forbidden zones to ensure the principle of a fair trial.

While responding to a written question from pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputy Akın Birdal in Parliament last year, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said that they had been working on the issue of conscientious objectors but did not go into detail about the ministry's plans.

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