Amnestys Report on Turkey

Amnesty Internationals recent report on Turkey reads: Freedom of expression,freedom of association, human rights defenders, torture and pre-trial detention, impunity, judiciary / fair trials, death penalty, prisons, minority rights.

Amnesty International European Office released in September 2002 a report about Turkey on "Briefing on present state of human rights development during the pre-accession process ".

Here is the report:

After Turkey was given the status of a candidate for accession to the European Union, an Accession Partnership has been agreed which sets out short-term and medium-term priorities for Turkey to achieve in order to fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria, a pre-condition for accession negotiations to start. Amnesty International has no position on the question of whether or not Turkey should be a member of the EU, but wishes to ensure that its concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey are addressed. It is for this reason that we will also raise our concerns with the European Union.

In the last 12 months a number of amendments to the Turkish Constitution and legislative reforms have been passed in Turkey. Amnesty International has already commented on the amendments of the Constitution adopted in October 2001 (AI Index: EUR 44/007/2002) and the legal amendments adopted in February 2002 (AI Index: 44/012/2002). In August 2002 the Turkish Parliament adopted another legal reform package. Amnesty International remains concerned that guarantees for full enjoyment by all individuals of the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, including effective safeguards against torture and the removal of restrictions on freedom of expression, are still missing.

Freedom of expression

The Accession Partnership calls for the strengthening of legal and constitutional guarantees for the right to freedom of expression in line with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the short-term, and requests Turkey to address the situation of persons in prison sentenced for expressing non-violent opinions. It also calls upon Turkey to remove any legal provisions forbidding the use by Turkish citizens of their mother-tongue in TV/broadcasting.

The amendment of the Constitution abolished the ban on publications in Kurdish (in Articles 26 and 28), but introduced further restrictions on freedom of expression.

On 6 February 2002 several provisions, which have frequently been used to sentence people for peacefully expressing their views, were amended:

1. The upper limit of sentences for "insulting" different state bodies (Article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC)) has been reduced, but people can still be punished for criticizing the military, police, etc. Since the maximum sentence has rarely been applied, this change appears to be insignificant in practice. Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns about the use of this article in order to prosecute human rights defenders and any people who expressed criticisms without advocating violence. Such charges (including, for example, in the case of women and men who denounced rape in custody at a conference in June 2000) should be dropped altogether. In August 2002, the Law No. 4771 added the sentence: "Written, oral or visual expressions of thought made only for criticism, without the intention to insult or deride the bodies or institutions listed in the first paragraph do not require a penalty."

2. Incitement to enmity and hatred (Article 312/2 TPC) is now punishable only if it is done in a manner that can be dangerous for public order, and the sentence for this offence has been reduced. As a result of this amendment, some possible prisoners of conscience were acquitted or not imprisoned. Others did not benefit from the amendment.

3. Propaganda for illegal organizations (Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law (ATL)) is now punishable only if done in a manner that incites the use of "terrorist" methods. However, leaders of the non-violent Ahmadiyya Muslim community are on trial under this provision.

4. "Separatist propaganda" (Article 8 ATL) is now punishable also if advocated through visual means, the sentence can be increased "if required", and if such an act is committed in a manner that incites the use of "terrorist" methods the sentence will be increased by a third. Amnesty International is concerned that this may indicate that separatist propaganda will be penalized even if it is not inciting the use of violence.

Law No. 4771, which entered into force on 9 August 2002, has amended the Law on the Establishment and Broadcasting of Radio and Television Channels in such a way as to allow "broadcasts in the different languages and dialects used traditionally by Turkish citizens in their daily lives". Yet it stipulates that broadcasting in different languages and dialects "shall not contradict the fundamental principles of the Turkish Republic enshrined in the Constitution and the indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation." Such wording can be - and has been in the past - used to penalize non-violent statements on the Kurdish issue or the role of Islam in politics and society.

Amnesty International will monitor the implementation of these amendments and remains concerned that the broad formulation of some provisions may still leave them open to abuse. A more thorough reform of law and practice in a way that fully guarantees the right to freedom of expression is still urgently needed.

A new development is the increased use of Article 169 TPC. Since late 2000 representatives of human rights organizations, political parties and trade unions have been charged with "aiding and abetting illegal, armed organizations" under Article 169 for opposing isolation in "F-Type prisons". In a number of cases Amnesty International believes that the defendants have not advocated violence and have been solely charged, convicted and imprisoned for expressing their views (see, for example, the case of three leading members of the legal Socialist Workers' Party of Turkey (TSIP) Turgut Koçak, Hasan Yavaş and Necmi Özyurdu, AI Index: EUR 44/032/2002). Since November 2001 thousands of students throughout the country have filed petitions for Kurdish as an elective course. Parents followed them by applying for mother-tongue education in Kurdish. The authorities responded with mass arrests, and in some cases the detainees were allegedly tortured or ill-treated. People who filed petitions have been charged with aiding and abetting the armed opposition group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or its successor KADEK. Amnesty International considers that most of the defendants in such trials have been charged solely for peacefully expressing their political views.

Freedom of association, civil society and the situation of human rights defenders

The EU has asked for legal and constitutional guarantees for the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and for encouraging the development of civil society. The constitutional amendment introduced new restrictions and retained old ones. In practice, the pressure on human rights defenders has increased.

Law No. 4771 introduced amendments to the Law on Associations, which are intended to facilitate the activities of non-governmental organizations. Amnesty International is concerned that the amendments fail to ensure full freedom of association. The amended Law on Associations still contains numerous provisions that have been used to seriously impede the activities of associations. Amnesty International is especially concerned about the repeated arrests and prosecutions of human rights defenders for their peaceful activities, the authorities' frequent refusal to grant permission for their activities and the closure of branches of domestic human rights organizations.

Torture and pre-trial detention

The EU has called for legal provisions and all necessary measures to be taken to reinforce the fight against torture in compliance with the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Amnesty International is concerned that the legal amendments passed so far have been inadequate: for example, the maximum period of police and gendarmerie custody has been reduced to four and seven days respectively. Under amendments passed on 6 February, legally prescribed incommunicado detention for detainees under the jurisdiction of State Security Courts was reduced to 48 hours. Since, in the majority of reported cases, torture apparently occurs within the first 24 hours of police or gendarmerie detention, the amendments are clearly an insufficient step to effectively combat torture. Also, Amnesty International has repeatedly documented that, in practice, incommunicado detention is often longer than legally permitted, and that detainees suspected of ordinary offences are often denied their legal right to immediate contact with the outside world. In the Region under State of Emergency authorities continue to apply Decree No. 430, thus holding detainees in prolonged police and gendarmerie custody for dozens of days during which they are at an increased risk of torture. (1)

In practice, torture continues to be widespread and practised systematically in different parts of the country, affecting people of various political backgrounds as well as people detained on suspicion of criminal charges (see AI Index: EUR 44/026/2002). Amnesty International has documented reports of torture of more than 60 people in the first half of 2002. The climate of impunity for suspected torturers also continues. AI is urging the Turkish authorities to finally implement in full the recommendations of the CPT and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, in particular the abolition of incommunicado detention, outlawing the routine practice of blindfolding detainees and effectively bringing perpetrators of torture to justice (see AI report "Turkey - Systematic torture continues in 2002", AI Index EUR 44/040/2002).

Impunity versus legal redress for human rights violations

The EU has called for a strengthening of opportunities for legal redress against all human rights violations. As one step in this direction, the Turkish parliament adopted amendments in August 2002 according to which retrial is possible in civil and criminal cases in the light of judgements by the European Court of Human Rights. Amnesty International is concerned, however, that this will only apply within a year of the finalization of the judgement of the European Court and thus might not be applicable to cases in which the judgement was passed more than a year ago. For example, the four former MPs from the Democracy Party DEP, who have been in prison since 1994, might not be allowed to benefit from the amendment. The European Court concluded in July 2001 that they were sentenced after an unfair trial and Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience.

In addition, Amnesty International considers that there is still a great need to strengthen legal redress for torture victims. As documented in October 2001 (AI Index: EUR 44/026/2002) in many cases those believed to be responsible for torture and other human rights violations go unpunished. Amnesty International has demonstrated how numerous factors contribute to impunity for alleged perpetrators. Only some of these are based in law, such as the Law on the Prosecution of Civil Servants under which administrative permission is still required for investigations into allegations of human rights violations. Amnesty International's recommendations for ending impunity are contained in the above-mentioned report.

Judiciary / Fair Trials

The EU has called for improvement of the functioning and efficiency of the judiciary, including the State Security Courts, in line with international standards. Turkey's National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA) states that several measures will be taken relating to the State Security Courts, the defence, the independence of the judiciary and the Forensic Institute. Amnesty International believes that there should be a comprehensive reform ensuring the full guarantee of fair trial rights, including immediate access to a lawyer, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, independent and impartial tribunals as well as the improvement of the juvenile justice system in compliance with international standards. (2)

Death Penalty

The EU has called for maintaining the de facto moratorium on executions in the short term and abolition of the death penalty in the medium term. With the constitutional amendment the death penalty was abolished for criminal acts, but remained in place in times of war and for "terrorist crimes". Meanwhile, death sentences continued to be passed by Turkish courts. As of July 2002, at least 36 death sentences had been passed in 2002 (of which only three were for criminal offences; of these 11 were commuted to prison sentences).

In the reform package adopted in August 2002, Turkey abolished the death penalty in peacetime. Newspapers reported on 3 September 2002 that the files concerning the death penalties of 87 convicts had been returned from the Turkish Parliament to the Justice Ministry for review according to the new amendment. Amnesty International warmly welcomed this step.

Prison conditions

The EU called for an adjustment of the prison conditions as a mid-term goal. Yet the prisoners who were transferred to high-security "F-Type" prisons after the prison operation in December 2000 have been held under conditions of isolation for more than one and a half years now. Prolonged isolation can amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture calls for an immediate end to this practice.

Minority rights

The EU called for the lifting of any legal restrictions on mother-tongue broadcasting as a short-term priority and the full guarantee for cultural diversity and cultural rights for all citizens irrespective of the origin, including in the field of education, in the medium term. The NPAA insisted on the status quo referring to the "free usage of different languages, dialects and tongues by Turkish citizens in their daily lives. This freedom may not be abused for the purpose of separatism and division." In April 2002 Turkey incorporated the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) into domestic law, but declared it did not accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in case of disputes between two state parties with respect to the interpretation or application of the Convention (Art. 22). In the review process of Turkey's report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in May 2001, Turkey did not withdraw its reservations relating to minority rights in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (3)

Under the constitutional amendments in October 2001 and the legislative amendments in August 2002 the ban on broadcasting in Kurdish was lifted with the above-mentioned restrictions. At the same time, thousands of students, who filed petitions for Kurdish as an elective course since November 2001, and parents who followed them by applying for mother- tongue education in Kurdish, met with harsh responses by the authorities, and many people were charged with aiding and abetting the armed opposition group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or its successor KADEK. Amnesty International considers that most of the defendants in such trials have been charged solely for peacefully expressing their political views. Changes to the Law on Foreign Language Education and Teaching, which came into effect on 9 August 2002, will allow for the teaching of languages, including Kurdish. However, no courses in Kurdish have apparently yet been approved by the authorities and the prosecution of individuals detained for requesting Kurdish language education continues. In early September 2002 Amnesty International was informed that some people were acquitted on the grounds of the new amendment. Amnesty International will monitor the implementation and effects of the legislative amendments. (NM)

(1) See AI Index: EUR 44/010/2002 and the recent Urgent Actions on Ekrem Zerey on 29 July 2002 (AI Index: EUR 44/034/2002), and on Remzi Karaduman, Ugur Uşar and Reşat Uşar on 2 August 2002 (AI Index: EUR 44/035/2002). The State of Emergency was lifted in the provinces of Hakkari and Tunceli as of 30 July 2002, but extended for Diyarbakır and Şırnak for another four months.

(2) For unfair trial concerns see: Amnesty International: Racism and the administration of justice, London, 2001, pp. 46-51.

(3) UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Turkey, unedited version, 8 June 2001, CRC/C/15/Add.152, para.11-12.

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19 September 2002, Thursday