Turkish Human Rights Record Comes Under Fire from UN

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Published Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Turkey faced harsh criticism Tuesday at a United Nations review of its rights record, with diplomats condemning intimidation of journalists and brutal police crackdowns on demonstrators.

"We are concerned about growing restrictions on freedom of expression, including censorship of new media and the Internet, and provisions of Turkish law that unduly limit peaceful assembly," US representative Keith Harper told the UN Human Rights Council.

His comments came during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkey's rights record — something all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.

But Turkey hit back, insisting it had made great strides in human rights and that freedom of expression and assembly were "indispensable" parts of the country's democratic order.

"The protection and promotion of human rights is one of our priority political objectives," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told the council.

While acknowledging there were some journalists in Turkish prisons, he insisted their detention was "not related to their journalistic activities."

Arinc added that there were currently 31 journalists in jail, contradicting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's recent claim that there were only seven.

The Egyptian delegation at the UPR was especially harsh in its criticism, with representative Amr Ramadan lamenting a "severe deterioration in the human rights situation in Turkey," and slamming Ankara for deadly crackdowns on demonstrations and jailing journalists.

"We would have wished to have seen such criticism coming from parties who adhere to the same universal values as we do," Arinc fired back at Egypt, which itself has jailed numerous journalists and seen many protesters killed in clashes with security forces.

However, Egypt's criticism was echoed by a large number of the 122 diplomats to take the floor Tuesday.

Harper, the US representative, pointed to "government interference in the judiciary and law enforcement sectors," including efforts to reorganize the courts, warning that this "undermines the rule of law."

British representative Karen Pierce expressed concern over "restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and expression, and the separation of powers," urging Ankara to "ensure judicial reforms are implemented in line with international standards."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has sacked thousands of police and scores of judges, and pushed through legislation tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary, raising questions at home and abroad about the state of democracy in Turkey.

On January 20, Turkish police carried out raids targeting at least 20 people suspected of being involved in illegal wiretapping, a move local media said was aimed at supporters of Erdogan's ally-turned-foe, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan, who consolidated his power further in moving from the prime minister's office to the presidency in August, said on Friday he would pursue Gulen's supporters into their "lairs."

In December, Turkish police raided media outlets close to Gulen and detained at least 23 people nationwide.

Erdogan has described Gulen’s supporters in the past as "terrorists" and "traitors."

Alluding to an international conspiracy, Erdogan said the "parallel structure" — the term Erdogan uses to refer to Gulen's supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions — was targeting Turkey's stability, independence and economy.

Erdogan has also pushed through legislation increasing government control of the judiciary, most recently a law restructuring two top courts.

The raids on Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu television marked an escalation of Erdogan's battle with Gulen, with whom he has been in open conflict since a corruption investigation targeting Erdogan's inner circle emerged in 2013.

"The free press cannot be silenced," a crowd chanted at the offices of Zaman as its editor Ekrem Dumanli made a speech defiantly challenging police to detain him, while elsewhere in Istanbul the chairman of Samanyolu TV was being detained.

Turkey frequently orders blackouts of media coverage of controversial issues.

On Monday, A Turkish court ordered Sunday to block access to a number of Facebook pages that share materials deemed insulting to Prophet Mohammad.

The Turkish government threatened to block access to all social media interfaces, including Facebook, if the latter fails to shutdown pages allegedly insulting the Prophet.

On January 14, Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reported that social media sites Twitter and Facebook, along with many other websites, have been blocked in the country after anonymous accounts published new evidence in an ongoing case accusing Turkey of illegal arms shipments to Islamist rebels in Syria.

The Syrian delegation, meanwhile, urged the Turkish government to abide to counter-terrorism laws and reinforce its control over its borders with Syria to "prevent the movement of terrorist groups."

“We recommend that Turkey show genuine and full commitment to international treatments and resolutions combating terrorism, especially Security Council resolutions,” the Syrian delegation said.

The Syrian government has consistently accused Turkey, a NATO member and one of Washington's key allies in the region, of playing a major role in fueling the armed crisis in Syria by opening its borders and allowing free access to foreign jihadists into Syria.

Others criticized Turkey on Tuesday for discriminating against minorities.

Armenia's representative Vahram Kazhoyan said Ankara should return "the confiscated properties of Armenians and other religious minorities, such as places of worship, including monasteries, church properties and religious and cultural sites."

He also called for Turkey to "fully implement the international obligations emanating from the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."

Armenians say the Ottoman state conducted genocide against them during World War I repressions that left an estimated 1.5 million people dead. But modern Turkey has always vehemently resisted terming the mass killings as genocide.

A recent survey showed that only 9.1 percent of Turks believe Ankara should apologize for the deaths during Ottoman rule in 1915 and describe them as genocide.

Another 9.1 percent were in favor of an apology without admitting to genocide.

Turkey rejects calls to recognize the killings as genocide, claiming up to 500,000 Armenians died in fighting and of starvation after Armenians sided with invading Russian troops. It alleges a comparable number of Turks were also killed.

Opposition party slams Erdogan’s government

Leader of Turkey's main opposition party claimed Tuesday that the ruling AK Party government has covered up corruption allegations against four former ministers.

"A file that revealed all the corruption cases has been covered up by the AK Party, which is now an abettor," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), told a meeting of his party's parliamentary group Tuesday.

In May 2014, a 14-member inquiry committee began its investigation into corruption allegations against former economy minister Zafer Caglayan, former interior minister Muammar Guler, former urbanization minister Erdogan Bayraktar and former EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis.

The committee later voted not to send the four ministers to trial before the Supreme Council, also known as the Constitutional Court, over corruption allegations with nine members voted against a trial while five voted in favor.

Last week, the Turkish parliament, in order to give the final decision over the trial of the ministers, held a secret parliamentary vote, which rejected calls for legal proceedings against all four former ministers at Turkey’s top court.

The CHP leader asked the public to grant his party a four-year period of power. "You will see how Turkey can be governed, how the rights of the people will be ensured, and how the bribe takers are brought to account," he said.

Turkey will be go to the polls for parliamentary elections in June 2015 to elect 550 new members of the Turkish parliament.

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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