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 European Court of Human Rights turns attention to freedom of speech in Turkey

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European Court of Human Rights turns attention to freedom of speech in Turkey  6.12.2011    
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye - ekurd.net







The rising number of cases in the European Court of Human Rights turns attention to freedom of speech, the Kurdish issue and Turkey's Anti-Terror Law.

December 6, 2011


STRASBURG, — With nearly 18,500 cases, mainly on human rights violations, freedom of expression and prolonged judicial procedures, Turkey recently became the country with the second most applicants to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after Russia.

"The number of cases against Turkey increased by 34% in one year," said Isil Karakas, a Turkish judge at the ECHR,     

European Court of Human Rights
adding that Turkish courts must adhere more closely to rulings coming from the ECHR if they want to prevent the flow of cases to Europe’s top human rights watchdog.

In its annual Progress Report, the European Commission criticised the Turkish government for "not finding a way to respond to the calls of the ECHR to reduce the time of imprisonment and speed up prosecution".

During his recent visit to Ankara, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, said journalists in particular were facing a "chilling" situation.

"A number of journalists have been arrested within ¬the scope of notorious broad-sweeping anti-terrorism laws. Many are detained for excessively long periods before being brought to trial," he reminded.

Authorities in Ankara, however, are not impressed. "These kinds of topics are addressed during our negotiations with the EU and they see that we are approaching them," Ayhan Sefer Ustun, chairman of the Turkish Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission, said.

In the meantime, he said, Turkey would offer settlements to prevent cases from being taken to the ECHR. "The government is now working on reforms and taking additional steps with European allies."

For the political opposition, the continuing arrests of journalists and academics charged with being members of banned groups, not only punishes the AKP government's rivals, but also damages the country’s image in Europe.

"This is not helping Turkey in its accession process with the EU and must be stopped immediately," said Ayse Gulsun Bilgehan, CHP MP and member of the Turkish delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

One of the major concerns coming from Europe is Turkey's Anti-Terror Law,www.ekurd.net which broadly defines support for terrorism, and often clashes with the principle of freedom of speech and peaceful political protest.

Cenap Cakmak, head of the international relations department at the Eskisehir Osmangazi University, said the disagreement between Turkey and Europe partially stems from the inherent difficulty in offering a generally acceptable definition of terrorism.

"Given this background, despite bold initiatives and reforms in the field of human rights and democratization, Turkey cannot be expected to introduce drastic changes to the existing legislation on anti-terrorism unless the PKK and its political splinter organizations make it clear that they will relinquish violence methods," he said.

According to Hamid Akin Unver, Ertegun Lecturer of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies at Princeton University, as far as Kurdish rights and cultural expression go, the AKP will likely not run into problems with the ECHR.

"They understand the dynamics of why Turkey is subject to the highest number of cases there," he said, arguing that, "after all, President Gul's wife had brought the case of the headscarf and sued Turkey in the ECHR before AKP came to power".

"However, the recent KCK operations will run into problems with the ECHR; most recent of which is the arrest of notable academics who taught courses in one of these KCK political science workshops," he added.

However, Sarah Fischer, Turkey analyst at American University, argues it is possible for judicial ideals in Turkey and the Europe to align.

"Frequently, Turkey's EU-accession process is labelled 'cyclical' and is seen as having been in a 'down' cycle for several years," she said, adding that if discussions over freedom of expression in Turkey and the EU gain traction, it might mark the beginning of an "up" cycle.

"The PKK's supporters are a diverse group. Should serious efforts be made to undertake judicial reform and expand democratic rights in Turkey, it is likely that some factions of the PKK's supporters would re-focus their efforts towards working within such a system," Fischer said, reminding that the right to express one's self has been a key concern of many Kurds for decades.

Published by eKurd.net in cooperation with Southeast European Times.

Copyright © 2011, respective author or news agency, setimes.com
 

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