Human Rights Watch has just released its annual World Report and its chapter on Turkey contains some very strong criticism of Ankara's efforts at human rights reform. “Despite some moves for reform, the efforts have been patchy, incomplete, and the new human rights mechanisms are under government control and lack independence,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW's senior researcher in Turkey. “If the government is serious about its latest moves to address the Kurdish issue in Turkey, freeing the thousands of detained peaceful Kurdish political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and students would be a good first step,” she said. “Turkey needs to make human rights a priority in its approach to all of its citizens.”
In Turkey, the cross-party work on a new constitution during 2012 was a positive development, Human Rights Watch said. But tight government control of appointments to the national human rights institution created in March and the ombudsman office established in June undermined confidence in potentially important oversight mechanisms. There are serious concerns about how independent or effective either institution will be in practice.
Turkey’s restrictions on freedom of expression are evident both in its laws and in the pattern of prosecutions and convictions under these laws, Human Rights Watch said. Judicial reform packages passed by the parliament, most recently in June, suspended prosecutions and convictions for some speech offenses, amended penalties for various terrorism laws, and attempted to curb excessive detention on remand, but have not yet had a significant impact. Politicians’ intolerance of dissenting voices – extending as far as criticizing television soap operas – and their willingness to sue for defamation perpetuates a chilling climate for free speech.
The campaign of arrests intensified during 2012 against Kurdish political activists associated with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), as well as students, journalists, human rights defenders, and trade unionists. While a few well-known people such as the academic Büşra Ersanlı and the journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were released from prison after public campaigns and international outcry, they remain on trial for activities amounting to exercising their rights to non-violent expression and association. The human rights defender Muharrem Erbey, members of parliament, and elected serving local BDP mayors have been in prison for over three years.
The Turkey chapter of HRW's World Report can be found here.