HRW slams appointment of controversial judge as Turkey’s first ombudsman

December 10, 2012, Monday/ 12:25:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Human Rights Watch (HRW) jumped on the bandwagon on Monday criticizing the appointment of Mehmet Nihat Ömeroğlu as Turkey's first ombudsman, calling on the government to reconsider the appointment if it “is serious about creating an ombudsman institution that champions citizens' rights.”

Ömeroğlu, a retired member of the Supreme Court of Appeals, was one of the judges at the top court who approved a local court's ruling against Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink over charges of “insulting Turkishness” according to Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which was later amended.

Dink was shot to death by an ultranationalist youth in front of the Agos newspaper, of which he was editor-in-chief, in 2007.

Over the past week Ömeroğlu publicly stated to the newspaper Yeni Safak that Dink's writing “constituted a clear violation of Article 301” and to the newspaper Radikal that “[we] made our decision on this case on the basis of our conscience.”

According to HRW, Ömeroğlu's appointment as the chief ombudsman of Turkey's newly created ombudsman institution has a history of failing to respect human rights standards, and his appointment risks the effectiveness of the new institution.

Ömeroğlu was sworn in by Parliament as head of the ombudsman institution on Dec. 5, 2012. The body was approved by parliament in June but has not yet been established.

“The newly appointed ombudsman continues to stand behind a court decision that the European Court of Human Rights strongly condemned as a violation of free speech,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at HRW. “If the government is serious about creating an ombudsman institution that champions citizens' rights, it should reconsider this appointment.”

Ömeroğlu was sworn in a week after the majority of members of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) voted for his appointment over two other candidates.

The decision to convict Dink targeted his writing on the impact on Armenians of the mass killings in 1915.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey to have violated Dink's right to freedom of expression with the Article 301 conviction and to have failed to protect Dink's life in the face of evidence known to authorities that Dink faced a real and imminent threat in the form of plots to kill him.

An ombudsman is an independent public authority assigned to hear complaints or grievances concerning the delivery of public services.

The Ombudsman's Office will be responsible for examining and investigating all manners of administrative acts, attitudes and behavior in terms of respect for human rights and freedoms, conformity with the law and fairness and appropriateness within the framework of the character of the Republic of Turkey as enshrined in its Constitution. It will perform its functions as part of the Parliament Speaker's Office.

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