Today's Zaman, Turkey
Feb 2 2008


Rights group criticizes Turkish judiciary


A leading human rights group has criticized the Turkish judiciary,
saying it issues "controversial rulings in defiance of international
human rights law" and remains "lenient" towards security forces in
sensitive cases involving accusations of abuse or misconduct.

"Turkish courts are notoriously lenient towards members of the
security forces who are charged with abuse or misconduct,
contributing to impunity and persistence of torture and the resort to
lethal force," Human Rights Watch said in its annual report. "Many
allegations of torture or killings in disputed circumstances never
reach the courts and are not investigated."

The report criticized Turkey for backsliding in human rights reforms
in 2007 and cited court decisions in a number of cases as examples.
One such example is what has come to be known as the Þemdinli case,
referring to the November 2005 bombing of a bookshop in the
southeastern town of Þemdinli that resulted in one death. In May 2007
the Supreme Court of Appeals quashed the 39-year sentences of two
gendarmerie intelligence officers, in what the report called a
"controversial" ruling.

The report stated that the crime had been committed in the course of
a counterterrorism operation and that the defendants should be
retried in a military court.

`This bombing was widely condemned by human rights groups in Turkey
as evidence of a resort to lawlessness in the name of
counterterrorism,' the report said.

In other examples, Human Rights Watch cited an April ruling in the
central Anatolian province of Eskiþehir, acquitting four police
officers for the killing of Ahmet and Uður Kaymaz in November 2004 in
the southeastern town of Kýzýltepe. `The court ignored substantial
forensic evidence demonstrating that the father and son may have been
the victims of a summary execution,' it said. The report also noted
that there was no progress in 2007 in the investigation into `the
widespread allegations of police torture following arrests during
violent protests in March 2006 in Diyarbakýr, into the deaths of 10
demonstrators (eight shot dead) during the protests.'

The report criticized the overall efforts of Turkey to improve human
rights, complaining that there was an increase in speech-related
prosecutions and convictions, a rise in reports of police brutality
as well as harassment of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party
(DTP).

`The state authorities' intolerance of difference or dissenting
opinion has created an environment in which there have been instances
of violence against minority groups,' said the report, noting the
January assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist and human rights
defender Hrant Dink by a teenage gunman.

`The criminalization of speech remains a key obstacle to the
protection of human rights in Turkey, contributing to an atmosphere
of intolerance that assumed violent proportions in 2007,' it said.
Dink came to public notoriety because he had been tried and convicted
under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), said the report,
and noted that the authorities have to date `failed to act on
significant evidence of negligence or possible collusion by the
security forces.'

Human Rights Watch also noted the ruling Justice and Development
Party (AK Party) victory in the July 22 elections, which came despite
intervention by the Turkish military in the political arena and which
`decisively influenced a Constitutional Court decision to block the
presidential candidacy of the AK Party's Abdullah Gül.' But it
criticized the AK Party for not doing enough to address human rights
concerns after the elections.

`After its electoral victory in July, the new AK Party government
failed to take immediate steps to restart the stalled reform process
by lifting restrictions on freedom of expression such as Article 301
and elements of the legal establishment opposed to reform continued
to prosecute and convict individuals for speech-related offences,' it
said.