EU Progress Report Criticizes Lack of Free Press in Turkey

ANKARA (Hurriyet)—The European Commission will criticize Turkey’s lack of press freedom in its 2010 Annual Progress report on the Islamic country that straddles Europe and the Middle East, according to an advanced copy of the report obtained by Reuters, reported the Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review on Monday.

The report, the official version of which will be released Tuesday, lists a number of concerns the European Union has routinely encouraged Turkey to improve upon and highlights several court cases that have been opened against journalists by politicians and high-level authorities, including military officials.

“Open and free debate has continued and expanded. However, prosecutions and convictions of journalists, writers, publishers and politicians for the expression of nonviolent opinions has continued,” the draft report said.

The document said there was an increasing open and free debate in the media and public on topics perceived as sensitive, such as the Kurdish issue, minority rights and the Armenian question. However, the report said anti-terror and press laws, along with Article 301 – which has been used to try people for “insulting Turkishness” – have been used to restrict freedom of expression.

“The large number of cases initiated against journalists who have reported on the Ergenekon case is a cause of concern. They face prosecution and trials for violating the principle of the confidentiality of an ongoing judicial process. This could result in self-censorship,” the draft said.

Although the report said journalists had continued critical reporting, it expressed concerns over apparent political attacks against press.

“The court case on the tax fine ordered in 2009 against the Doğan Media Group, which is critical of the government, continues,” the draft report said. The EU report also noted frequent website bans in Turkey and said they were disproportionate in scope and duration.

The report did applaud recent constitutional amendments, saying they were a step in the right direction, but criticized the fact that adopting the measures was not preceded by a process of consultation involving political parties and civil society organizations.

“The implementation of the amended constitutional provisions, in line with European standards and in a transparent and inclusive way, will be key,” the report said. “The confrontational political climate between the main political parties continued to slow down on political reforms.”

The document also criticized Turkey’s Parliament for passing only a limited number of laws related to the Copenhagen political criteria and the lack of changes made to the electoral system.

The scope of parliamentary immunities further raised concern among the report’s authors. “It is too wide in cases of corruption, but at the same time it does not adequately protect the expression of nonviolent opinions,” the report said, noting how many members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) and its successor, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had been arrested and taken to court.

Equally troubling was the ongoing Ergenekon case, according to the report.

“The investigation into the alleged criminal network Ergenekon and the probe into several other coup plans remains an opportunity for Turkey to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of its democratic institutions and the rule of law. However, proceedings in this context need to fully respect due judicial process and the rights of the defendants,” the report said.

Turkish authorities have been conducting ongoing investigations into Ergenekon, an alleged ultranationalist syndicate that stands accused of plotting to overthrow the government by fomenting chaos in society.

Constitutional changes to the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors as well as limiting the authority of military courts were positive steps, the report said.

“However, the justice minister still chairs the high council and has the last word on investigations,” the report said.

The EU document applauded the progress Turkey has made on the cultural rights of Kurdish citizens, citing the relaxation of laws banning the use of Kurdish on TV, radio broadcasts and in prisons.

“However, restrictions remain, particularly on using languages other than Turkish in political life, education and contacts with public services,” the report said.

The report said Turkey’s approach to ethnic, linguistic and religious issues remains restrictive. “The use of any language other than Turkish in political life still falls under the law on elections and political parties. The courts have been issuing contradictory decisions in cases against Kurdish politicians,” the document said.

The government’s opening to the Alevi community, which included workshops with Alevi representatives, was noted, but the authors said compulsory religion lessons remain in public schools and is troubling.

“The dialogue with Alevis and with non-Muslim religious communities continued but has not yet produced results,” the report said.
Below is a summary of the 2010 annual Progress Report on Turkey

1. Noted concerns about the country’s freedom of the press and political attacks against the media.

2. Cases initiated against journalists who reported on the Ergenekon coup investigation are worrying.

3. The drafting and adoption of constitutional reforms lacked proper consultation with opposition parties and civil society.

4. Restrictions need to be lifted on using languages other than Turkish in political life, education and public services.

5. Compulsory religion classes in public schools are worrying.

6. Improved observance of international human rights law, but legislation needs to be brought in line with U.N. principles.

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