We are writing to you today to express our deep and growing concern about the stalled reform process in Turkey and about several recent events that raise troubling questions about Turkey’s commitment to international human rights standards.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly and publicly acknowledged the important human rights progress that Turkey has made during the reforms of the past four years. We welcome your government’s commitment to “dynamic and continuous reform,” declared by Deputy Prime Minister Gül on April 11 when he introduced plans for a ninth reform package, and promised measures to increase accountability for government officials, enhance the independence of the Human Rights Presidency, and further improve the status of foundations that hold property on behalf of the Jewish, Greek, Armenian minority communities.
Mr Gül went on to say that “the important thing is the direction in which we are going. The reform process must be kept consistently dynamic.” We at Human Rights Watch fully endorse the view that the reform process needs to maintain its momentum and additional progress needs to be made in a number of key areas. We are therefore particularly concerned about recent developments suggesting that your government is backtracking on important human rights reforms and that the reform process itself may be in jeopardy. After months of growing concern, we write to you today to set out some of the areas where we have seen a deterioration in human rights in recent months and/or where serious human rights concerns have yet to be addressed.
The Arrest of Ibrahim Güçlü, Zeynel Abidin Özalp and Ahmet Sedat Oğur
On May 2, police detained Ibrahim Güçlü, Zeynel Abidin Özalp, and Ahmet Sedat Oğur in Diyarbakır, as they prepared to walk to the border with Iraq to peacefully protest recent killings of civilians by security forces in southeastern Turkey and their concern about tensions between the Turkish government and the administration in northern Iraq. The three men were held overnight for questioning and formally arrested the following day. They were charged under the Anti-Terror Law with “making propaganda for the PKK,” a charge that is patently absurd given that Güçlü has frequently and publicly condemned PKK violence. The three men will be tried on June 8 at Diyarbakir Criminal Court No 4.
The arrest and prosecution of Güçlü, Özalp, and Oğur violate article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguard freedom of expression and assembly respectively, and is one example of a worrying trend, in which the security forces and courts in Turkey appear to be reverting to abusive policies and practices that undermine the reform process.
We urge you to ensure that Ibrahim Guclu, Zeynel Abidin Özalp, and Ahmet Sedat Oğur are released and the charges against them are dropped.
Retrograde developments in freedom of expression and language rights
In late 2005, Human Rights Watch wrote to express disappointment that your government and the judiciary had failed to abandon longstanding restrictions on freedom of expression and fully recognize language rights for minorities. Prosecutors and judges continue to prosecute and convict individuals who peacefully exercise their right to free expression in clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was incorporated into Turkish law in 2003. In addition to the case of Güçlü, Özalp, and Oğur discussed above, other recent examples include the prosecutions of Birgül Özbarış and Perihan Mağden under article 318 for “alienating the public from the institution of military service” because they wrote newspaper articles regretting the lack of alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors. They face up to three years’ imprisonment for each offense.
The government has not even considered abolishing article 318, although it is clearly used to restrict internationally protected expression. It is only one of a number of articles of the criminal code that are used to punish peaceful expression and assembly. Article 301, which prohibits “denigrating Turkishness” and insulting state institutions, is also frequently used for such purposes. In March, Eren Keskin was sentenced to ten months imprisonment, converted to a 6,000 Turkish Lira (TL) fine, for a speech she made in Germany saying that the security forces were responsible for many cases of sexual assault of women. Many other cases under article 301 are ongoing, including prosecutions against the publisher Ragip Zarakolu, the artist Ferhat Tunç, and the journalist Hrant Dink, all of whom face possible imprisonment for having expressed their peaceful opinions. Deputy Prime Minister Gül has said that, the ninth reform package will not repeal article 301 although he might consider doing so, “if the need arises.” It is clear, from these and other similar cases that the need is urgent.
Some judges and prosecutors seem to be attempting to turn back the tide on hard-won language and cultural rights for minorities, as well. Leaders of Hak-Par (the Rights and Freedoms Party) will stand trial under the Political Parties Law on June 8 in Ankara Criminal Court for speaking Kurdish at their party congress. On April 20 Diyarbakır Primary Court No 2 closed Kürt-Der (the Kurdish Association) of which the prisoners Ibrahim Güçlü, Zeynel Abidin Özalp, and Ahmet Sedat Oğur were founding members. Kürt-Der was closed under the Associations Law on the grounds that it was working for an extension of broadcasting and education in Kurdish, and had conducted its internal business in the Kurdish language—the normal business of such cultural organizations. The closure is indicative of resistance by elements within the civil service and judiciary to the standards established by the European Human Rights Convention, which Turkey signed and ratified more than half a century ago.
The rights to assemble freely and peacefully express ones views are fundamental to all the other rights and freedoms enshrined in the human rights treaties to which Turkey has committed itself. For this reason, people imprisoned for their opinions are of special concern to us. Human Rights Watch criticized your own imprisonment on this basis and called for your release, raising your case in various publications including our 1999 World Report, and our report of February 1999 entitled Violations of Free Expression in Turkey.
Given your own experience, as well as your obligations under international law, we would have expected your government to take concrete steps to ensure that the people of Turkey are able to exercise their right to free expression. Unfortunately, to date your government has failed to implement this fundamental human rights commitment and has not pushed hard for repeal of articles of the criminal code that are most problematic with regard to free expression and minority language rights. Instead, your own private prosecutions of critics such as Musa Kart and the magazine Penguen for their caricatures presenting you as a kitten, giraffe etc —mild by comparison with trends in political cartooning elsewhere in Europe—not only violate the EHCR, but also raise doubt about your own commitment to freedom of expression.
We urge you to ensure the abolition of criminal code articles 301 (insulting state institutions) and 318 (undermining the institution of military service) and to drop all charges against Birgül Özbarış, Perihan Mağden, Eren Keskin, Ragip Zarakolu, Ferhat Tunç, and Hrant Dink.
Undermining the reform process
From the late 1970s onwards, violent political conflict provided the context in which soldiers, police, other security forces, and the judiciary committed gross violations of the human rights of ordinary Turkish citizens (see, for example, the string of judgments against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights for extrajudicial execution, “disappearance,” torture, unfair trial and denial of free expression). The leaders and members of illegal armed groups also committed serious acts of violence against state bodies, as well as civilians (see, for example, Human Rights Watch’s list of twenty-five massacres attributed to the PKK or for which the PKK assumed responsibility, included as an appendix to our letter to the Italian prime minister urging that Abdullah Öcalan be prosecuted for his part in such violations, following his arrest in Rome in 1998 [https://www.hrw.org/press98/nov/italy-apendix.htm]). Both sides used unlawful and undemocratic methods to develop and maintain a powerbase within their respective constituencies through acts of intimidation, torture, and killing that were calculated to generate fear and loyalty.
The reform process and improvements in human rights protection since 1999¬¬—in which your government played a role—has not only empowered individuals and the broader civil society in Turkey, but has also eroded the powerbase of armed groups described above. As a result, it is widely believed that some armed groups–both state and non-state actors—oppose the reform process because it threatens their raison d’etre. Many in Turkey suspect that some parts of the state apparatus, as well as some armed opposition groups, are carrying out violent attacks and committing grave human rights violations in an effort to destabilize the reform program and re-establish their authority. The Şemdinli case discussed below appears to confirm these suspicions.
The Events in Şemdinli
On November 9, 2005, a bomb was thrown into a bookshop in Şemdinli, in Hakkari province, killing Mehmet Zahir Korkmaz. Local people who were present in the vicinity at the time of the bombing chased men seen running from the bookshop, and caught two members of the gendarmerie intelligence service, together with a former PKK member, near the scene of the crime. The men were in possession of bombs, including a bomb identical to that used in the attack and other incriminating evidence. The two gendarmes and the third man were arrested and charged with the bombing and murder. That same day, another gendarmerie unit opened fire on the bystanders who had captured the alleged bombers, killing civilian Ali Yılmaz. After some delay, the commander of that unit was also arrested and charged with the shooting death.
After the incident, as described below, military commanders and the security force establishment quickly moved to block any serious investigation into whether or not senior officers had helped plan the bombing, and by doing so, appeared to confirm the original allegation that some segments of the military had been involved in/or supported the attack. The Office of the Chief of General Staff also blocked judicial examination of three local military figures who were, it was claimed, in a key position to provide information on the killing: the Hakkari Provincial Gendarmerie Commander, the Hakkari Mountain Commando Brigade Commander and the Van Public Security Commander. The Office of the Chief of General Staff refused permission for the military authorities to investigate their responsibility into the incident.
The bombing in Şemdinli was only one of a series of such attacks that had occurred in the province. Fourteen bombs had exploded in Hakkari province in the two months prior to the attack on the bookshop, including a 150 kg car bomb near Şemdinli gendarmerie headquarters on November 1. This bomb wounded six soldiers, three police, and sixteen civilians, and severely damaged surrounding buildings, but caused no fatalities.
Preliminary evidence about the bombings in Şemdinli and other parts of Hakkari province suggested that members of the military may have been planting bombs in order to disrupt the atmosphere of relative calm in southeastern Turkey, and provoke renewed conflict in the region.
In late February, Sabri Uzun, Director of the Police Security Intelligence Bureau, raised concern about possible military involvement in the bombings in Şemdinli when he was questioned by a parliamentary commission. He indicated in coded but quite clear terms that the November 1 explosion had possibly been the work of people within the security forces, and expressed doubt that the gendarmes indicted for the bookshop attack could have been in Şemdinli without the knowledge of higher ranking officials, as claimed. Within a month Sabri Uzun was removed from his post. This administrative sanction appears to be an attempt to intimidate any other public officials who might be considering providing information to the parliamentary commission, or offering testimony in the Şemdinli prosecutions.
On March 3, 2006, the prosecutor in the Şemdinli bombing case, Mr Ferhat Sarıkaya, issued an indictment, in which he also proposed that further investigations be carried out to determine whether senior military officers had ordered the attack on the bookshop. The indictment suggested that a motive for the original killing may have been “[t]o bring the local [Kurdish] population to a state where it can be lured with ease into action … then exaggerating this threat beyond its true level, in order to prepare the way for violent measures by the state and to permit emergency rule to take precedence over the administrative system in the region … permitting security chaos in the region to be used to apply pressure on the political authority, and thereby … to frustrate Turkey’s fundamental political directions—the modernizing project, the EU process—and to protect the power and place of the core political/bureaucratic governing elite.” The indictment also referred by name to a general who had reportedly described one of the alleged perpetrators as “a good offıcer.” On March 20, the Office of the Chief of General Staff issued a statement that the indictment was “political … aiming to undermine the Turkish Armed Forces and the fight against terror,” and made a complaint against the prosecutor. By April 21, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors had taken Prosecutor Sarıkaya off the case, removed him from his job, and stripped him of his status as a lawyer for “abuse of his duty and exceeding his authority.”
The 2005 EU Regular Report on Turkey’s progress toward EU membership, prepared by the Commission in consultation with your government as part of the accession partnership, clearly indicates that the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors is not reliably independent from political influence. The speed with which the Council took action against Prosecutor Sarıkaya was unprecedented and raises serious concern that the Council was used to block any investigation into responsibility for the bombing. The decision is reminiscent of the 2001 firing and expulsion of prosecutor Sacit Kayasu, who indicted General Kenan Evren for staging the 1980 military coup.
The United Nations’ Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors states that prosecutors must “give due attention to the prosecution of crimes committed by public officials, particularly corruption, abuse of power, grave violations of human rights and other crimes recognized by international law” and must be permitted “to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference or unjustified exposure to civil, penal or other liability.”
This violation of the independence of the judiciary and the accompanying interferences in the investigation reveal the true extent of the military’s enduring influence, and the continuing impunity that exists for abuses committed by members of the Turkish Army and those who work with it.
We urge you to ensure the immediate re-instatement of the Van prosecutor Ferhat Sarikaya, and the restoration of his status as a lawyer.
Disproportionate use of force and disregard for the right to life
There has been a shocking increase in the use of lethal force by police dealing with protestors in the southeast in the last year. Since November 2005 police have killed nineteen people in demonstrations and disturbances. In the past, Human Rights Watch has raised concern with your and previous governments about the disproportionate use of force by security forces in Turkey. However, for the most part, we were referring to incidents in which police beat demonstrators. Recently, law enforcement bodies have resorted increasingly to lethal force and shown little regard for Turkish citizens’ right to life. By so doing, they have conducted themselves in a manner that runs directly counter to policies proposed by the government to increase respect for fundamental rights.
The March violence in Diyarbakır
On March 23, a long-awaited milestone in respect for minorities was achieved when two local private television stations and one private radio station began Kurdish-language broadcasts. This achievement was a significant victory for the non-violent pursuit of recognition for minority language rights, and an important challenge not only to the state’s traditional model of the republic, but also to the PKK’s methods. The following day security forces and PKK militants clashed near Bingöl, and fourteen PKK fighters were killed. On March 29, members of the public—and in particular male youths—attending the funerals of the PKK militants, clashed violently with police, throwing stones and petrol bombs. In street battles that took place in Diyarbakır over the next days, the police fired bullets, gas grenades, and stones at the rioters, killing eight civilians. Ten people died in all and some, such as 78-year-old Halit Söğüt, beaten to death, were clearly bystanders. Three of the dead were children: nine-year-old Abdullah Duran, eight-year-old Ismail Erkek and six-year-old Enes Ata. (A bullet fired by police during similar disturbances in Batman also killed three-year-old Fatih Tekin on March 31.)
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms state that “In the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms in such cases except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” The Basic Principles also state that “whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved” and that they should “minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.”
It is clear that the police were confronted with large and angry crowds, some of whom became violent. According to the Diyarbakır governor’s office, 199 police officers were injured in the melee. However, there are serious questions as to whether the police in Diyarbakır could have used less extreme means to control the crowd, or done more to minimize the threat of injury or death. We are therefore concerned that the force used may have been excessive and disproportionate, in violation of international standards.
Turkish police possess the necessary equipment and skills to manage demonstrations and disturbances without resorting to lethal force, and have done so on many occasions in recent years. Yet since November 2005 they have repeatedly used live ammunition against demonstrators, or used weapons designed to limit injuries (such as pepper gas launchers) in a manner that has produced serious trauma and death. News footage also showed police officers using catapults to shoot stones into crowds of demonstrators in Diyarbakır.
According to the Basic Principles, your government is responsible for ensuring that “arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.” The Principles also state that “Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that superior officers are held responsible if they know, or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command are resorting, or have resorted, to the unlawful use of force and firearms, and they did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress or report such use.”
Despite these obligations, your government has repeatedly failed to confront the security forces’ reckless use of violence and hold accountable those who are responsible through administrative and criminal penalties. Not only has the government failed to penalize those who commit such violations, you have not even condemned the sudden increase in the use of lethal force. Instead your statement in the days following the deaths that “[t]he security forces will intervene against the pawns of terrorism, no matter if they are children or women" appeared to excuse the security forces from any responsibility even for the four children they had killed. Your government’s failure to do condemn the use of excessive force and hold accountable those who have violated international policing standards contributes to the atmosphere of impunity for law enforcement that prevails in Turkey and increases the likelihood that there will be further such violations.
We urge you to initiate an urgent inquiry into the recent rise in the use of lethal and disproportionate force, which has cost nineteen lives in the past seven months. We also call on your government to take steps to ensure disciplinary punishment, and where appropriate criminal prosecution, of officers found responsible for unlawful killings or woundings, or encouraging or by their negligence permitting other officers to commit unlawful killings or woundings. We believe that you can make a personal contribution to halting this dangerous trend by making a public statement reminding police officers of their duty to protect human life wherever possible.
Torture and ill-treatment in Diyarbakır
During the March violence in Diyarbakır, policed detained hundreds of people, many of whom have alleged they were ill-treated during detention.
Between March 28 and April 5, police detained 551 people, 199 of them minors. On April 4, lawyer Cengiz Analay, chief of the Diyarbakır Bar Children’s Rights Centre, said that 95 percent of the children they had represented during those days had made allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including being made to sing the national anthem while being beaten, being stripped of their clothes, hosed with cold water, and deprived of food and then offered bread that had been spat on.
The Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association interviewed A.T., a fourteen-year old boy, on April 3, 2006. He said: “I was detained on March 29. About fifteen police beat me with truncheons. My right arm was broken, but they dragged me in that condition for about 100 metres, and then took me to the sports hall of the Security Directorate... They beat me with truncheons, refused permission for me to use the toilet, and made me constantly stand and sit... In the morning at 3:00 am they made me go to sleep, and then woke me up at 5:00 and beat me with truncheons again.” F.K., a forty-six year old woman, gave the following account on April 5, 2006: “On March 28 I went to collect my daughter from school. While going to the Koşuyolu district, police stopped me, insisting that I had been throwing stones. Giving me no opportunity to respond, they beat me and detained me. They first took me to the sports hall at the Security Directorate, and then to the Anti-Terror Branch. They constantly beat, cursed and insulted me ... They hit me, struck me with truncheons on every part of my body (my back, my arm, my legs, but especially my head). I felt constantly nauseous from the blows I received... they gave me one meal in three days but I could not eat it... a policewoman pulled my hair.” She also described perfunctory medical examinations at which police insisted on being present.
The physical abuse of demonstrators detained in Diyarbakır at the time of the disturbances flagrantly violated international and Turkish law and was completely at odds with your government’s declared policy of zero tolerance of torture.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly stressed the importance of effective supervision of police stations, and the need for a firm and quick response, including both administrative and criminal sanctions as appropriate, when allegations of torture arise (see for example our letter to Deputy Prime Minister Gul of April 22, 2005). The Diyarbakır provincial human rights board made no effort to supervise the detention centers during the March violence, even though there was clearly a heightened risk of torture. In fact, the board has never carried out any police station visits. What is more, to our knowledge, the Interior Ministry has not conducted an investigation into how and why the system of safeguards against torture and ill-treatment broke down so badly during the March violence in Diyarbakır.
Although to date prosecutors in Diyarbakır have opened thirty-four investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment during the March disturbances, there is reason to be concerned that these investigations may not lead to a proper accountability process. As the European Union’s 2005 Regular Report points out “prosecutors still do not conduct timely and effective investigations against those accused of torture … Convictions are rare and the courts appear to be unable or unwilling to impose appropriate sanctions on those committing these crimes.” It is important that a political signal is sent that impunity for ill-treatment and torture will not longer be tolerated. We believe that your government could send a powerful message of its unwavering commitment to end torture in Turkey if it were to dispatch representatives of the Interior Ministry to conduct an investigation and make a public accounting of what led to law enforcement bodies to revert to old practices of ill-treatment and torture during the events in Diyarbakir.
Human Rights Watch urges you to initiate an urgent inquiry, through the Human Rights Presidency, into the circumstances of the outbreak of torture in Diyarbakır in March, and to ensure disciplinary punishment, and where appropriate criminal prosecution, of officers found responsible for torture or ill-treatment, or for encouraging, or by their negligence permitting other officers to inflict torture or ill-treatment.
Indiscriminate violence by armed opposition groups
Human Rights Watch is well aware that armed opposition groups such as the PKK and the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) have been more active in recent months, and that they have carried out indiscriminate or targeted attacks on civilians, killing more than twenty in the past year. TAK was linked to the bomb attack in the tourist centre of Kuşadası that killed five civilians in July 2005. TAK claimed responsibility for a bomb that exploded in an internet café near a branch of Bayrampaşa Police Headquarters in Istanbul on February 9, 2006. Café owner Zafer Işık died and fifteen people including three children were wounded. On May 3, 2006, twenty-one people, including eleven children, were wounded when a bomb exploded in Hakkari. Authorities in the region blamed the PKK for the attack; it has not denied responsibility. On April 2 demonstrators in Istanbul threw Molotov cocktails at a city bus, causing a crash that killed passengers Zulbiye Karasu, Sinem Ozkan, and Sibel Ozkan.
Last week, Human Rights Watch also publicly condemned the attack on the Council of State judges, and the killing of Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin, by an assassin who stated that he had acted “in revenge” for a controversial decision by a Council of State chamber in October 2005 that upheld the city governor’s refusal to promote a teacher seen wearing a headscarf while off-duty. (A copy of Human Rights Watch’s press release is attached) Turkey’s ban on headscarves infringes upon women’s right to religious freedom, but Human Rights Watch has made clear that such rights can never be legitimately defended through violent attacks against civilian authorities.
These attacks suggest that the leaders of these armed groups may also be keen to destroy the reform process and may believe that they benefit from ongoing conflict. Progress in human rights since 2000 has brought modest but significant improvements in respect for the rights of minorities, and the leaders of such groups may feel that these new policies are undermining their raison d’etre.
These attacks on civilians violate international humanitarian law and reveal a callous disregard for human life. Human Rights Watch strongly condemns such attacks on civilians and calls for the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of such attacks in free and fair trials consistent with international law.
While violence against civilians by armed militants must be condemned, it cannot justify the grave abuses committed by state officials, or excuse the government’s failure to bring to justice those officials who have perpetrated such abuses.
Proposed Anti Terror Law amendments
As noted above, Ibrahim Güçlü, Zeynel Abidin Özalp, and Ahmet Sedat Oğur are accused of “making propaganda for the PKK” in violation of the Anti-Terror Law. This case underscores the problematic way that Turkey currently enforces its Anti-Terror Law to restrict internationally protected rights and also raises concern about proposed amendments to that law, which are currently under consideration by the Turkish Grand National Assembly.
Article 6 of the draft Law on Some Amendments to the Anti-Terror Law states that “Anyone who makes propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization or its aims, shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of from one to three years.”(Emphasis added) As soon as the draft became public, human rights groups expressed concern that people with no connection to illegal armed political organizations might be imprisoned and branded as “terrorists” because some element of their peaceful and lawful demands happened to coincide with demands made by illegal armed groups. The arrests of Güçlü, Özalp, and Oğur under anti-terror legislation for nothing more than attempting a protest walk suggests these fears are fully justified, and that police and judicial authorities are indeed gearing up to characterize non-violent protest as terrorism.
Proposed Anti-Terror Law amendments would also restrict a detainee’s right to notify kin of his detention, and permit judges and prosecutors to delay a detainee’s access to legal counsel for twenty-four hours. These measures threaten to undo the primary human rights achievement of your administration – progress in the fight against torture.
For at least a quarter of a century the Republic of Turkey had a well-documented record of systematic and widespread torture. Its laws and regulations encouraged torture and protected torturers. Reforms adopted since 1997 have established important safeguards that contributed to a significant reduction in torture. The most effective measure in combating the abuse was the complete abolition of incommunicado detention in 2003, and recognition of the right to legal counsel for all detainees from the first moment of detention. Thereafter, the reduction in torture was so dramatic that it seemed realistic to hope that with the help of independent monitoring of police stations to ensure broad implementation of these safeguards, torture could soon be entirely eliminated in Turkey (see our March 6 report Turkey: First Steps Toward Independent Monitoring of Police Stations and Gendarmeries).
It should be noted that in the reports of torture from Diyarbakır in March, police held detainees under the Anti-Terror Law, and tortured or ill-treated them mainly within the first twenty-four hours. The outbreak of abuse in Diyarbakır alone is a strong and timely argument against the proposed twenty-four hour delay in access to legal counsel.
Many governments are following the worldwide fashion to erode safeguards for detainees. Human Rights Watch has criticized this tendency in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. To date, Turkey’s reforms have run counter to this trend. The benefits for Turkish citizens have been considerable: detainees are no longer being beaten to death at the rate of one a week, as was the case in the mid-1990s, and as a by-product, substantial political advantages have accrued, including the start of EU candidacy negotiations.
During its campaign for improved access to legal counsel and other safeguards against torture, the human rights movement (including the Turkish Parliamentary Human Rights Commission under the leadership of Dr Piskinsut) presented a huge amount of evidence—ranging from instruments of torture recovered from police stations to medical evidence, and the testimony of hundreds of Turkish citizens –men, women and young children—who had been tortured or convicted to long terms of imprisonment on the basis of testimony extracted under torture—that made abundantly clear that such safeguards were necessary.
By contrast Human Rights Watch has not seen any evidence to justify the suspension of access to legal counsel—certainly the Justice Ministry’s reasoning for the amendments published in the draft law makes no effort to justify this dangerous step.
The Interior and Justice Ministries must not be allowed to discard such significant safeguards that were only so recently achieved, on the basis of unsubstantiated claims from the security forces that allowing detainees to talk to a lawyer will somehow threaten the fight against terrorism.
We urge you to ensure that the draft Law on Some Amendments to the Anti-Terror Law is not passed in its current form, and that the Ministry of Justice withdraws in particular the provisions relating to propaganda in article 6, and the restrictions to detainees’ right to inform relatives and receive legal counsel in article 9.
Human Rights Watch understands how difficult it is for your government to challenge many of the policies, practices and abuses raised in this letter, since they are often justified in the name of national unity, territorial integrity and the fight against terror, and backed by forces with an extensive power network in the state apparatus and the media. However, an irresolute stance from the government may jeopardize the important human rights progress that has been made.
We therefore believe that it is time for you to make a major public statement affirming your and your party’s commitment to the reforms of the past years, and presenting a picture of how the rights and freedoms at the heart of the program benefit Turkish citizens. The reform process that your government helped to further is at a crucial juncture. Whether there will be further progress in human rights protection or a return to the widespread and systematic violations of the 1980s and 1990s depends in large part on your leadership.
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
Ambassador Nabi Şensoy, Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
Mr Abdullah Gul, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and State Minister with responsibility for human rights
Mr Cemil, Cicek, Justice Minister, Ankara
Mr. Abdulkadir Aksu, Interior Minister, Ankara
Mustafa Taşkesen, Human Rights Presidency, Office of the Prime Minister
Committee for the Prevention of Torture
Mr. Martin Harvey, Acting Head of Turkey Unit, European Commission
Ambassador Hansjörg Kretschmer, E.U. representation in Ankara
Ms. Aslıgül Üğdül, Director for Political Affairs, Avrupa Birliği Genel Sekreterliği, Ankara