Rights Group Critizes Turkish Record Again

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–A human rights group has piled on fresh criticism of Turkey’s shaky rights record in a week in which Ankara acknowledged abuses had been committed and acted to improve treatment of detainees.

Torture and maltreatment of prisoners persisted in 1997 despite improvemen’s in some areas of human–the US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report received by Reuters on Friday.

"Persistent human rights abuses continued. They included restrictions on free expression–torture–death in detention–and police abuse and maltreatment," said an excerpt of the HRW 1998 annual report.

Electric shock–squeezing of testicles–suspension by the limbs–blindfolding and stripping naked were often used as a method of interrogation–especially by the anti-terror police–according to the HRW.

The report’s release followed commen’s by a Turkish minister on Thursday that "some mistakes and abuses" had been committed by Turkey in the area of human rights.

Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz this week signed an order for authorities to tighten up implementation of measures to prevent torture and ill treatment of those held in custody.

Western criticism of Turkey’s rights record is an obstacle to Ankara’s long-standing aspiration to join the European Union.

The EU will decide next week whether Turkey is to be included in the group’s expansion process.

Western diplomats said Turkish authorities had suggested one of Turkey’s most high-profile prisoners–Kurdish former parliamentarian Leyla Zana–could be freed before the EU summit.

"They’re hinting that she is going to be released soon. I would expect it to happen within a week," a Western diplomat told Reuters.

Human rights activists said a doctor had visited Zana last week at the Ankara jail where she has been held since being jailed for 15 years in 1994 for links to Kurdish rebels.

A leading rights activist–Esber Yagmurdereli–was released in October after producing a doctor’s certificate saying he could not stay in jail.

But Kurdish sources said Zana was in good health and had asked not to be released except as part of a wider solution to the Kurdish problem.

Turkey’s prison system is plagued by problems ranging from excessive use of force during unrest to easily bribed warders and overcrowding–according to the HRW report.

It said the state continued to imprison journalists and writers and confiscate publications under laws limiting expression–despite lively debate in a wide variety of newspapers.

Separately–the report questioned the political role played by Turkey’s powerful military–whose fierce criticism of the former Islamist-led government led to its downfall in June.

"Its (the military) interventionist proclivity is sharply at odds with the role the military plays in most democratic countries," it said.

The report also criticized the state’s village guard system–employing around 50,000 Kurdish villagers in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The guards–generally poorly trained and ill-disciplined–continued to be implicated in crimes ranging from smuggling to kidnapping and abuse of authority–the HRW said.

The PKK itself was involved in abuses such as extrajudicial killings–kidnapping–extortion and destruction of property. More than 27,000 people have died in the conflict between the security forces and the PKK since 1984 when the PKK began fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey. There has been no additional response from the government of Turkey. Despite repeated warnings from the European Union–Turkey remains adamant about its version of the situation in the republic.

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