US rights report criticizes Turkey’s judiciary, media freedom

May 25, 2012, Friday/ 01:16:00

The US State Department's annual report on human rights described deficiencies in access to justice, government interference in the freedom of speech and of the press and inadequate protection of vulnerable populations as the most significant human rights problems in Turkey last year.

Chronicling developments in nearly 200 countries, the rights report said broad laws against terrorism and threats to the state, political pressure and inadequacies in the judicial system in Turkey limit access to justice, as do lengthy pretrial detentions and a lack of transparency in the prosecution of cases related to state security.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also ruled against Turkey in two separate cases regarding lengthy pre-trial detentions this week. The decision of the European court claimed that the length of pre- and post-trial detentions in Turkey in the case in question exceeded acceptable limits.

The Turkish government has embarked on the establishment of a commission to reduce nearly 3,000 cases filed with the ECtHR. Lengthy pre-trial detentions and the duration of trials constitute two primary complaints, pushing Turkey to seek alternative ways to clear cases outside of the Strasbourg-based court.

The rights report also said that the time lag between arrests and the presentation of indictments; leaks of information, evidence or statements; restricted defense access to evidence put forward by the prosecution; and the secrecy of the investigation orders also fueled concerns about the effectiveness of legal protections for suspects.

It noted that the close connection between prosecutors and judges gave the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases, while the broad authority granted to prosecutors and judges contributed to an inconsistent and uncertain application of criminal law. It did, however, praise the government for adopting judicial reforms to speed up and improve judicial processes last year.

The State Department report also complained about the authorities' interference in freedom of speech and press, claiming that the penal code and anti-terrorism laws retain multiple articles that restrict press freedoms and public speech on politically and culturally sensitive topics.

The arrest and prosecution of journalists, writers and Kurdish intellectuals and political activists, coupled with condemnatory speeches by political leaders, had a chilling effect on freedom of expression, the report said, adding that politicians, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have sued their critics for defamation at all levels.

It underlined that more than 100 journalists remained imprisoned at the year's end, with most charged under anti-terrorism laws or for connections to an illegal organization. Intellectuals, writers, journalists and media outlets increasingly reported practicing self-censorship to avoid prosecution, although the media continued to criticize government leaders and policies daily and in many cases adopted an adversarial role with respect to the government, it said. The report said the government and the courts limited access to a broad range of websites based on their content.

The report also blamed the authorities for failing to effectively protect vulnerable populations it described as women, children and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, from societal abuse, discrimination and violence. Violence against women, the report warned, including honor killings and rape, remained a particularly significant problem. Child marriage persisted, it added.

Other significant human rights problems the report said were unlawful killings committed by security forces, which included a botched air strike in Uludere that killed 34 civilians mistaken for members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The document also reported that demonstrations in southeast Turkey and elsewhere related to the Kurdish issue, students' rights and activities of the Higher Education Board (YÖK) were marred by violence and that members of the security forces used excessive force. “Prisons were overcrowded. Law enforcement officials did not always provide detainees immediate access to an attorney,” it also said.

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