12 April 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has said the 4th judicial reform package, which was adopted in Parliament late Thursday, does not pave the way for the release of prisoners in court cases related to the terrorist Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).
The KCK is an umbrella organization encompassing the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Parliament on Thursday ratified the new reform package with the adoption of a last-minute amendment to remove extra punishment for those convicted of spreading the propaganda of a terrorist group. According to the change, it will no longer be a crime to print statements of terrorist organizations and attend unauthorized demonstrations.
With the package, the government aims to do away with violations of human rights, ensure a fair trial, expand the boundaries of freedom of expression and prevent lengthy detentions and trials. Lengthy imprisonment periods and arrests easily ordered by courts have been another major source of complaints in recent years in Turkey.
The 4th judicial reform package was submitted to Parliament by the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party). On Thursday, deputies voted on the bill article by article and at night, they adopted the motion that decriminalizes printing and spreading statements by terrorist organizations or attending illegal demonstrations in support of organizations defined as terrorist groups. This change was accepted during a vote on Articles 7 and 8.
Previously, if a person promoted the cause of a terrorist organization by spreading its statements or participating in its demonstrations, even if they were not a member of that organization, they would be tried on charges of membership of a terrorist organization. With the changes to the law, such individuals will no longer be tried for membership of a terrorist organization. Ergin addressed deputies after the reform package was adopted in Parliament, saying they were working to “leave a better and livable Turkey to future generations.” “We should share our experience in order to create a more favorable ground for co-existence and leave a better country to future generations,” he stated and added that everybody, including politicians in particular, should watch their language in order not hamper efforts to that effect. Turkey regularly tops the list of countries violating the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Commission had called on Ankara to amend its laws to distinguish between incitement to violence and expression of non-violent ideas.
According to the new law, only direct incitement to violence will constitute a crime, and Justice Ministry officials said it was in line with European Court of Human Rights criteria.
The justice minister also spoke to reporters following the voting, and when asked if the new package would allow KCK suspects to be released from prison, he categorically said “no.” The minister pointed out that KCK suspects are being tried on charges of founding or being members of the armed terrorist organization, according to Article No. 314 in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Ergin said the new reform package’s legal scope does not include KCK prisoners, dismissing news reports suggesting that the suspects who are jailed pending trial in the KCK case could be released with adoption of the 4th judicial reform package. The package also includes articles aimed at preventing torture and bad treatment, preventing violation of freedom and of the right to security, eliminating obstacles before freedom of speech and liberty of conscience, strengthening the rights of the accused, reinforcing the efficiency of the defense and protection of privacy and family life in a more solid way.
In addition, the package eliminates the statute of limitations on crimes related to torture by adding a sub-clause to Article 94 of the present TCK, which deals with penalties for torture and maltreatment, that reads, “A statute of limitations is not valid regarding this crime.” The ECtHR considers a lack of action due to long trials as paving the way for wrongdoers to go unpunished and thereby a violation of the third article of the ECHR, inferring that an efficient investigation has not been conducted in such cases.
In a statement issued in late March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said strengthening the 4th judicial reform package could significantly improve human rights and help bolster the peace process with the terrorist PKK. According to the HRW, the reform package fails to revise or repeal the full range of legal provisions that restrict freedom of expression. It does not limit application of the charge of “membership of an armed organization,” which is frequently used to imprison Kurdish political activists and journalists, the organization added.
The 4th judicial reform package was met with harsh reactions from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
CHP Malatya deputy Veli Ağbaba said the package does not contain anything new. “The first judicial reform was empty. And so were the second and third packages. And we see that the fourth is empty, too, though it kept the national agenda busy for several months. The package does not shorten the lengthy detention periods or prevent unlawful and arbitrary arrests. It does not broaden individual rights and freedoms, either,” complained the deputy.
Ağbaba also claimed that the government prosecutes students who ask for free education, members of business unions who deliver press statements, teachers who criticize the education system, photojournalists doing their profession and journalists who report on anti-government demonstrations on accusations of membership in terrorist organizations. The ratification of the 4th judicial reform package has coincided with progress in efforts by the government and the terrorist PKK to negotiate an end to the three-decade terrorism problem. According to the MHP, which is staunchly opposed to the efforts, the package was prepared by the AK Party upon requests coming from the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan. MHP parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Oktay Vural said the new reform package will serve the interests of terrorism and the terrorist PKK. MHP Osmaniye deputy Hasan Hüseyin Türkoğlu also criticized the package. “We are waking up to new judicial bills every other day due to requests coming from the terrorist group. The government is doing whatever İmralı [referring to the PKK leader incarcerated there] orders. I advise the AK Party to appoint Öcalan as the parliamentary group deputy group chairman instead of waiting for his orders. You may also assign some PKK terrorists as judges and prosecutors,” Türkoğlu stated.
AK Party parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Ahmet Aydın reacted to Türkoğlu’s remarks, which he said were an indication of the MHP’s failure to offer solutions to the country’s long-standing problems. “Our people know our position about the settlement process. Your remarks are an indication of weakness. They indicate that you are growing weaker as you fail to offer solutions to this country’s problems,” he said. Ergin previously said the 4th judicial package was not a result of talks with the terrorist PKK to solve the terrorism problem as preliminary studies for the package began in November 2011 when the talks had not yet been launched.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Co-chairwoman Meral Danış Beştaş also spoke about the reform package and said although the BDP finds the last-minute change to the package a “positive step,” the party does not find the entire package satisfactory.