US report: Turkey fails in judicial transparency, media freedom

May 25, 2012, Friday/ 18:29:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual US Department of State publication prepared with the aim of chronicling changes around the world in human rights, noted lack of effective access to justice, lack of judicial transparency and limitations on freedom of speech in media and intellectual and political circles in Turkey in its 2011 assessment.

The deficiencies outlined in the country’s judicial system are said to be related to “lengthy pretrial detentions” and “lack of transparency in the prosecution of cases related to state security,” along with “broad laws against terrorism and threats to the state and political pressure.” An “overly broad” definition of terrorism under anti-terror laws was described as a concern in the report under the section of “Respect for Civil Liberties,” with anti-terror laws said to be used disproportionately against journalists and writers.

Another main pillar of the inadequacies listed was “government interference with freedom of speech and the press.” The Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and laws against terrorism were criticized for including “multiple articles that restrict press freedom and public speech on politically and culturally sensitive topics.” While noting an increased application of self-censorship among intellectuals to avoid prosecution, the report nevertheless maintained that the media continues to criticize and adopt an adversarial role with respect to the government.

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 at all levels, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have sued their critics for defamation.

The report noted that more than 100 journalists remained imprisoned at the end of 2011, with most charged under antiterrorism laws or for connections to illegal organizations.

The document also reported that demonstrations in southeastern Turkey and elsewhere related to the Kurdish issue, students’ rights and the activities of the Higher Education Board (YÖK) were marred by violence, and members of the security forces allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators.

Turkey’s human rights credentials in its combat with terrorism also had a major place in the report. It noted that “approximately 220 members of the security forces were killed and 475 were injured, and 303 alleged terrorists were killed and five were injured” during the first 10 months of the year.

The Uludere incident specifically featured in the report’s “unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life” section. The incident was described: “Military aircraft killed 34 civilians near the town of Uludere in an airstrike intended to kill members of the PKK.” The report noted that the government’s investigation was still under way at the end of 2011.

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