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Turkey: Rejecting old practices, abiding by new

Turkey: Rejecting old practices, abiding by new standards

(Ankara) Turkey's legal reforms to date have been encouraging, but genuine change will only come with their full and sustained implementation, accompanied by further legal changes, Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International concluded following first-ever talks between the organization and high-level representatives of the Turkish government.

"Amnesty International acknowledges the progress that Turkey has made in the area of human rights, we want to encourage the government to go along this path, but we also want to indicate to them the areas where significant change is still required in order to close the gap between the government's reforms and reality on the ground."

"Our message to Prime Minister Erdogan is that the fundamental flaws in the Turkish criminal justice system continue to perpetuate human rights violations. Unless there is far-reaching institutional reform, legal reforms will not be effective or sustainable."

Ms Khan reiterated the need for judicial and police reform, and the need for substantial measures to change procedures and attitudes within these institutions.

She called on Prime Minister Erdogan and his government to ensure:

- More legal reform: bold legal reform - to fully comply with international human rights standards;

- Fundamental reform of state institutions so that new laws are not subverted by old attitudes;

- Creation of an environment in which civil society can fully participate and the exercise of fundamental freedoms is not seen as an attack on the state.

"There is a risk that the government's efforts will be sabotaged if legal reform is not accompanied by a strong agenda for institutional reform," Ms Khan stated.

"The Turkish government has announced a policy of 'zero tolerance of torture', yet reports of torture persist."

"The culture of impunity must be brought to an end. The authorities must demonstrate a clear will to investigate, prosecute and punish all officials who perpetrate human rights violations."

"Unless these reforms are seen to have significant impact on the ground, they will achieve neither credibility nor confidence."

"The government has amended laws on freedom of expression, association and assembly but harassment of human rights defenders continues."

Amnesty International is disturbed by the continuing practice in Turkey of investigating, prosecuting and convicting people for political dissent. Human rights defenders face a pattern of judicial harassment. Huge numbers of investigations and trials have been opened against them in recent years under various laws and regulations, although such trials usually end in acquittal or a sentence that is suspended or commuted to a fine.

"Tolerance of non-violent, dissenting views is an essential feature of free and open societies, and must be valued as an important contribution to public debate in Turkey."

"Although progress has been made in a number of areas, there is still a need for bold legal changes and fundamental institutional reform to ensure that people can exercise their human rights without fear of harassment, intimidation or prosecution."

"Clear laws send strong messages. The government must either amend or repeal articles in the Penal Code and the Anti-Terror Law that are open to abuse."

"The end of conflict in south-eastern Turkey, the clear majority of the AKP government and the desire of Turkey to accede to the European Union have created a unique momentum for improving human rights. The pre-accession period has been very beneficial. The government must keep up the pace and spirit of reform."

Ms Khan presented Prime Minister Erdogan with a memorandum that acknowledges progress but also outlines the organization's continuing concerns about human rights protection in Turkey, particularly in relation to: continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials; impunity for such crimes and the need to address the legacy of violations; continuing restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminalization of peaceful expression of dissenting opinion; and violence against women.

The memorandum states that institutional failures in the Turkish criminal justice system are major factors contributing to human rights violations. For the process of legal reform to be truly effective the Turkish government must give priority to police and judicial reform, and independent scrutiny of state institutions.

Irene Khan also called on the Turkish government to:

- Establish an independent mechanism to monitor respect for human rights;

- Set up commissions to review fundamental reform of the police and judiciary;

- Repeal Article 159 of the Penal Code which, even in its amended form, continues to criminalize non-violent expression of opinion which is seen to "insult or deride" the state and state institutions;

- Amend articles in the Penal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Associations, including some which have been already amended, that can be used to violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly;

- Release all those imprisoned for expressing their opinion in a peaceful manner, including human rights defender Özkan Hoºhanli, and Leyla Zana and co-defendants.

"The process of change has come to a critical cross-road. The real test of the government's determination to realize reform will lie in its willingness to confront reform of state institutions."


An Amnesty International delegation led by the Secretary General, Irene Khan, has been in Turkey since 8 February. They have visited Istanbul and Ankara where they held talks with representatives of civil society and members of the government, including Prime Minister Erdogan, Deputy Prime Minister Gül, Minister of Interior Abdulkadir Aksu, the Council of State, the presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeals, the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and the Parliamentary European Union Harmonization Commission. On 13 February they will travel to Diyarbakir to meet with human rights and women's groups to discuss issues specific to the region, before returning to London.

Turkey: Restrictive laws, arbitrary application - the pressure on human rights defenders. View the full report at

Turkey: Memorandum to the Turkish Prime Minister on the occasion of the visit to Turkey of a delegation led by Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General, February 2004 at

View all documents on Turkey at

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