Turkish trials spur reform of police, judiciary
Allegations of misconduct in two murders ` one of an outspoken
journalist ` have heightened debate.
By Yigal Schleifer | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
>From the January 4, 2008 edition



Reporter Yigal Schliefer discusses attempts by Turkey's government to
place a greater emphasis on individual human rights.Istanbul - For
years, debate about the fairness of Turkey's police and judiciary has
simmered here. Now, two high-profile murder trials under way are
bringing new light to underlying concerns and spurring stalled efforts
for reform. The new intensity of discussion suggests a step toward
transparency, though experts are still critical of the institutions.

On Jan. 19, Turkey will mark the first anniversary of outspoken
Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's killing, which has been surrounded by
accusations of police and prosecutorial impropriety.

Such claims have gained new momentum with the trial for the murder of
three Christians in a Bible publishing house last spring. Since the
trial opened in November, press reports emerged alleging police
collusion in the murders and accused prosecutors in the central Turkish
city of Malatya of seriously mishandling the investigation. The
allegations were brought by lawyers representing the families of the
victims, based on evidence introduced to the court.

As shocked as Turks have been by the accusations in the Dink and
Malatya cases, observers say the fact that they are coming to light so
quickly represents in itself a kind of step forward.

"There have been a lot of political murders and crimes in the past in
Turkey, but it was always very difficult to find out who did it," says
Hakan Bakircioglu, a lawyer representing Dink's family at the trial.
"These two cases might be the first time we can find the murderers and
maybe not catch, but at least touch, the members of state organizations
who might be behind the crimes."

Dink's murder on an Istanbul sidewalk last January was quickly followed
up by reports that top police officials had been informed months before
about a plot by Turkish nationalists to kill him. Meanwhile, a video
showing several policemen proudly posing with the murder suspect after
he was caught surfaced soon after the murder.

In the Malatya case, press reports have indicated that the suspects,
also young nationalists, had phone conversations with police and
possibly even with a prosecutor from Istanbul in the months before the
murders, something that was not followed up by the prosecutors. The
police in Malatya have been accused in the press of destroying
videotapes recorded in the hospital room of one of the accused, who
injured himself during the crime.

"There is a huge lack of transparency and a huge lack of accountability
in the Turkish security services," says Volkan Aytar, a researcher at
the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), an
Istanbul-based think tank.

Amnesty International has also criticized Turkey's institutions. "The
investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations
committed by officers of the police and gendarmerie are flawed and
compounded by inconsistent decisions by prosecutors and judges,"
concluded a report last summer.

In response to controversy surrounding the the Malatya case, Turkish
Interior Minister Besir Atalay promised last month to "increase our
transparency," announcing that two senior police officials would
conduct a probe.

Over the past decade, the Turkish police force has taken some steps
toward reform, starting a program which has sent some 250 of its
members to obtain advanced degrees in criminal justice in the US and
Europe, to help improve the force from the inside.

"There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in the last ten
years," says Onder Aytac, a lecturer at Turkey's national police
academy in Ankara. "But there is a kind of fighting between the old
system and the new system. There are some people in the police force
who are trying to go along the old way."

Turkey's judiciary, today seen as one of the pillars maintaining
Turkey's secular system, has also made some reform efforts. Over the
last few years, more than 9,000 judges and prosecutors have undergone
European Union-sponsored training to learn about European human rights
law. Turkey is a candidate for EU membership and is a member of the
Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

Still, a recent survey of judges and prosecutors taken by TESEV found
that a majority still favors the interests of the state over those of
the individual, with 51 percent saying they believe that upholding
human rights could pose a threat to state security. But a new
constitution in the works would shift the emphasis more toward
individual rights, paving the way for Turkey to join the EU.