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No Right Turn: Turkish PM Erdogan In Wellington

No Right Turn

Turkish PM Erdogan In Wellington


http://norightturn.blogspot.com

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan touches down in Auckland tomorrow on the first state visit of a Turkish PM to New Zealand. I've been wondering what to say about this since I saw the government's press release on the visit last month. Turkey has a poor human rights record: according to the US State Department's 2004 country report on Human Rights Practices in Turkey, while the Turkish government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens",

Security forces reportedly killed 18 persons during the year; torture, beatings, and other abuses by security forces remained widespread... Security forces continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, although the number of such incidents declined. Lengthy trials remained a problem. Convictions of security officials accused of torture remained rare, and courts generally issued light sentences when they did convict. In politically sensitive cases, the judiciary continued to reflect a legal structure that favors State interests over individual rights...

(This really makes you wonder what "general respect" entails - but I guess the point is that this is very much the exception even in security cases, rather than the rule as it is in some countries).

Unfortunately, you won't be hearing any of that from MFAT. As with the Musharraf visit, MFAT seem to think this visit is all about trade. From the Herald story and another one on Stuff, their pre-visit briefing seemed to focus almost entirely on the trade and business opportunities presented by Erdogan's visit. And their country paper on Turkey does not even mention the human rights situation there. This is simply shameful. Human rights are a core New Zealand value and a key part of our foreign policy (even MFAT acknowledges this, albeit belatedly, in its 2005 Briefing to the Incoming Minister) - but once again, MFAT seems to be trying to sweep the entire issue under the carpet.

So how should the NZ government respond to Erdogan's visit? Unlike President Musharraf of Pakistan, Prime Minister Erdogan was actually elected, and under conditions which generally met international standards. While portrayed as an Islamist by the Turkish military, he seems no worse than the average European Christian Democrat in his mixing of religion and politics. More importantly, Turkey's desire to join the EU has seen it make genuine progress on human rights in recent years. They've abolished the death penalty, increased the penalties for convicted torturers and for honour killings, and relaxed restrictions on the Kurds. For all their flaws, they seem to be making concrete progress in the right direction. New Zealand should welcome this progress, while at the same time saying "more, please" and pressing for further progress.

One area we should definitely press for more progress in is freedom of expression. The US State Department report notes that

[t]he State and Government continued to limit freedom of speech and press; harassment of journalists and others for controversial speech remained a serious problem. At times, the Government restricted freedom of assembly and association. Police beat, abused, detained, and harassed some demonstrators... The Government continued to harass, indict, and imprison human rights monitors, journalists, and lawyers for the views they expressed in public.

A concrete example of this is Article 301 of the new Turkish Penal Code, which criminalises "public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly" as well as the government, judicial institutions, the military or "security structures" - lese majeste in other words. More than sixty Turkish writers (including Fatih Tas) are currently facing trial under this law, and according to the BBC website, another five prominent editors have just been charged over editorials they wrote condemning a court decision to prevent an academic conference on the Armenian Genocide. This law is a gross violation of freedom of expression, and violates Turkey's commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - and we should take the opportunity to Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to push for a repeal. Unfortunately, Winston's little outburst may have damaged our credibility in that area...

ENDS

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