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050601|Flash|New Turkish Penal Code & European rights co
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1 June 2005 | www.flash-bulletin.de | info@flash-bulletin.de

1. "EU-sought penal code takes effect in Turkey despite criticism", Turkey's new penal code, a key reform demanded by the European Union, took effect Wednesday after months of political wrangling and despite criticism that it severely restricts press freedoms.

2. "RSF, Concerned of New Turkish Penal Code", Parliamentary amendments drawn up ahead of 1st June to the Turkish Penal Code on freedom of expression related articles are very inadequate, says international journalists rights organization RSF. They share concerns of Turkish colleagues.

3. "EU envoy urges Turkey to focus on job at hand", Turkey should disregard the turmoil in Europe sparked by France's "no" vote on the European Union Constitution and focus single-mindedly on implementing reforms needed to join the bloc, an EU envoy said on Tuesday.

4. "European rights court slams Turkey over treatment of detainees", the European court of human rights condemned Turkey on Tuesday for its treatment of three men and a woman detained and jailed in the 1990s.

5. "Turkey tries to silence talk shows", TV programs geared to women are blamed for family discord.

6. "French cloud Turkey's EU dreams", barely minutes after the French vote came in senior politicians in Turkey were thundering their way to the microphones to say how nothing had changed. The EU constitution was without doubt the main victim of the French vote. But Turkey looks like it has been badly hurt.


1. - AFP - "EU-sought penal code takes effect in Turkey despite criticism":

ANKARA / 1 June 2005

Turkey's new penal code, a key reform demanded by the European Union, took effect Wednesday after months of political wrangling and despite criticism that it severely restricts press freedoms.

Controversy has haunted the code ever since the government rushed it through parliament last September as part of reforms that helped Turkey win an EU green light for accession talks scheduled to start this fall.

The law has been welcomed for introducing a more liberal criminal justice system, in particular increasing penalties against human rights abuses and torture and significantly improving the rights of women and children.

But some parts, notably those concerning the media, triggered a widespread campaign against the law, forcing Ankara to put it on hold just days before it was due to take effect on April 1 to allow parliament time to amend several provisions.

Parliament passed the amendments last week, but President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who has two weeks to study the articles, had not signed them into law by midnight Tuesday, which means the code took effect in its original form.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul played down the prospect of Sezer vetoing the amendments, insisting that the main reforms demanded by the EU were part of the code's original version.

"The issues of concern to the EU -- in other words, provisions related to the (EU) political criteria -- have already been amended," Gul said.

Turkish newspapers greeted the new code with protests and scepticism.

"Freedom of the press is in danger," declared the daily Aksam, while Milliyet headlined: "Sour start to a new era."

The Radikal newspaper lashed out at the government for failing to address the complaints of press groups, which argue that under the new code, journalists may still end up behind bars although jail sentences were purged from the press law in an earlier reform last year.

Experts say articles concerning the media contain terms vague enough to leave prosecutors and judges with room for arbitrary decisions that may threaten freedom of expression.

One article of particular concern foresees up to 15 years imprisonment for those who disseminate propaganda via the media against "fundamental national interests" in return for material benefits from foreigners.

The article raised alarm when it emerged that explanatory notes in the draft said it targets those who may, for instance, advocate the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus or support claims that the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire was genocide.

Press groups also say provisions pertaining to the protection of privacy and the secrecy of judicial proceedings until suspects are formally charged are too restrictive and will deal a heavy blow to investigative journalism.

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2. - Bianet - "RSF, Concerned of New Turkish Penal Code":

Parliamentary amendments drawn up ahead of 1st June to the Turkish Penal Code on freedom of expression related articles are very inadequate, says international journalists rights organization RSF. They share concerns of Turkish colleagues.

PARIS / 31 May 2005

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it shared the concerns of Turkish journalists over threats to press freedom from a new criminal law that still needed major amendments before coming into force on 1st June.

Despite revisions voted by parliament after it was adjourned on 31 March 2005 following strong media protests, the organization repeated its call for the removal of prison sentences for press offences.

"Far from bringing Turkish law into line with European law on freedom of expression, some articles of the code on the contrary would facilitate arbitrary legal action against journalists and entailing a climate of self-censorship damaging to press freedom", it said.

Several articles of the new code are particularly perilous. Article 305, which punishes acts that go against "fundamental national interests" by prison sentences of three to ten years, threatens journalists and the right of the public to be informed.

Any claim to do with the "Armenian genocide" or "withdrawal of Turkish armed forces in Cyprus" would be considered as against"fundamental national interests".

Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned in the past for having simply expressed their opinion on this type of subject.

Turkish deputies did nevertheless agree to remove paragraph 2 of the article which set out a 50 percent increase in sentences if the offence was committed via the press.

Article 301 that is to replace 159 has been used in the past to severely punish any criticism of parliament, the justice system or the security forces.

It will be termed in future "Humiliation of Turkish identity, the Republic, state institutions and bodies".

It will allow wide scope for interpretation and threaten anyone criticizing Turkish identity, the state or parliament with a prison sentence of six months to three years. Any person who attacks the government, justice system or the security forces moreover faces six months to two years in prison.

Article 285 threatens with four and half years in prison anyone "violating the confidentiality of an investigation". This could be a serious threat to the right of journalists to protect their sources.

Article 277 punishes anyone trying to "sway the justice system" with two to four years in prison and potentially puts in danger journalists covering court proceedings.

Under Article 267 of the new code, defamation in the press with the aim of exposing someone to a judicial investigation is liable to a one to four-year prison sentence.

Article 216, formerly 312, punishes with one to three years in prison "deliberate incitement of a section of the population to hatred and hostility through discrimination on the basis of race, region or membership of a religious group, against another section of the population" that causes "a clear and direct danger to the public" (paragraph 1).

"Humiliation of a section of the population due to social, religious, sexual or regional differences" is liable to a sentence of six months to one year in prison (paragraph 2). "Overt humiliation of a person because of their religious principles is liable to six months to one year in prison if the offence threatens social peace" (Paragraph 3). This "humiliation", a very vague legal concept, capable of being interpreted very widely by jurisprudence, directly threatens freedom of expression both for journalists and for the general public.

This is not an exhaustive list. Turkish journalists and press freedom organisations see parliamentary amendments drawn up ahead of 1st June to the version of the code as it was to have been applied on 1st April, as very inadequate. They consider that only six of the 20 problematic points have been revised Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Call for major amendments to new criminal code that threatens press freedom.

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3. - Turkish Daily News - "EU envoy urges Turkey to focus on job at hand":

ANKARA / 1 June 2005 / by Gareth Jones

Turkey should disregard the turmoil in Europe sparked by France's "no" vote on the European Union Constitution and focus single-mindedly on implementing reforms needed to join the bloc, an EU envoy said on Tuesday.

French voters rejected the charter in a referendum on Sunday, partly due to concerns over the EU's eastern enlargement including plans to open entry talks with Turkey in October.

The constitution makes no direct reference to Turkish membership, but French "no" campaigners successfully played on voters' fears of eventually admitting a large, relatively poor and mainly Muslim country bordering Iraq and Iran.

"If Turkey does its homework properly, that is the best way to avoid the criticism leveled [from Europe] against Turkey and its ability to fulfill the requirements," said Hans-Joerg Kretschmer, the European Commission's envoy to Ankara.

"This must be the leitmotif for Turkey, to concentrate exclusively on the substance of its reforms."

He told Reuters he remained hopeful Turkey would begin entry talks on time and may even complete negotiations in one or two policy areas, or "chapters," by year-end despite the French "no" and a likely further rejection of the charter in Wednesday's Dutch referendum.

"We can't exclude the possibility that political factors may come into play," he said, noting that Turkey will be on the agenda of an EU summit in mid-June.

Turks are also concerned that a victory for Germany's center-right Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party in an expected September election could also hurt their EU hopes. The CDU strongly opposes Turkish membership, favoring instead a "special partnership.”

Rule of law:

"If Turkey fulfils its homework in all respects, I do not think there will be any major attempt to stop this [accession] process," Kretschmer said.

"In many EU countries we see a skeptical public opinion [on Turkey], but the best way to tackle this is ... to show Turkey is becoming a mainstream European country that practices the rule of law, respects minorities and so forth."

He said Turkey had only two things to do to ensure talks start on time: implementing a revised penal code to bring Turkish criminal law more into line with EU norms and signing a protocol extending its customs union to include the 10 new EU members, including a Cypriot government that Ankara does not officially recognize.

The penal code has been completed and is due to take effect on Wednesday. Turkey has also pledged to sign the customs protocol soon, though it insists this does not mean it accepts the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.

It is expected to take up to a decade to complete the accession talks, but Kretschmer stressed that progress largely hinged on Ankara's own efforts.

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4. - AFP - "European rights court slams Turkey over treatment of detainees":

STRASBOURG / 31 May 2005

The European court of human rights condemned Turkey on Tuesday for its treatment of three men and a woman detained and jailed in the 1990s.

Erol Gultekin, Sait Oral Uyan, Kazim Gundogan and Nezahat Turhan, suspected members of the TKP/ML-TIKKO, an illegal Marxist-Leninist rebel group, were arrested and placed in detention in April 1996.

After their release the following May they testified that they had been tortured and their charges were backed up by a doctor who examined them, the court said in its judgement.

A year later, three police officers were tried and acquitted on charges of mistreating the detainees.

"A State is responsible for everyone in detention, because these people, in the hands of police functionaries, are in a vulnerable position and the authorities have the duty to protect them," the court said, adding that Turkey carried the "responsibility for the injuries inflicted on the applicants".

The court concluded that Ankara had violated article three of the European human rights convention which bans torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

It fined Turkey a total of 50,000 euros (61,000 dollars) damages to the four complainants, three of whom remain in jail for "membership of an illegal organisation and threatening the constitutional regime".

A week earlier, the court ruled that Turkey, which hopes to eventually join the European Union, had at least badly treated a trade union leader last seen alive while in custody before being found dead in a ditch in 1994.

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5. - Chicago Tribune - "Turkey tries to silence talk shows":

TV programs geared to women are blamed for family discord

ISTANBUL / 1 June 2005 / by Catherine Collins

Before Aysenur Yazici placed the tape across her mouth to protest the cancellation of her popular television talk show, she said she would stand silent in this city's crowded business district for two hours.

The host of "You Are Not Alone" also swore that she would be willing to remain silent for the rest of her life if such an act could fix the system that blames the messenger for society's problems.

But it was only minutes before Yazici ripped the tape from her mouth. Quickly, she slipped into talk-show-host mode to debate a man in the crowd who was taking her to task for promoting family discord.

Private matters discussed

"These shows promote quarreling," Mahmut Karaarslan said. "The women who appear as guests on these shows talk about private matters, things they should discuss with their husbands, not the entire country."

"This woman," he said, gesturing at Yazici during the recent protest, "provokes quarrels and dissension within families, between men and women."

But talk shows have an important role in Turkey today, Yazici said earlier that day.In a country where there are few opportunities for women, serious shows with professional guests are important to make women aware of their rights in the home and workplace and to provide basic information about issues such as health and domestic violence, she said.

"I work within the framework of Turkey's media laws," she said. "I am not a sociologist or a psychologist. I am a journalist. My role is to inform these women. In a perfect world, there would be no need for shows like mine."

Although Yazici staged the protest, it was another women's program that prompted the recent showdown. A guest on another show who complained about domestic violence returned to her village, where she was shot by her son five times. It was the second shooting in a month to be blamed on the show.

Family honor is paramount in Turkey. Before shooting his mother, the 14-year-old boy was reported in the Turkish press to have said, "You ruined our family's honor."

Turkish television--from talk shows to reality television programming--has come under fire recently from the country's media watchdog, the Higher Board of Radio and Television.

Citing "harmful effects" of television in the last month, the media board has established a panel to study and curb reality television, pressured television stations to halt women's talk shows and imposed an outright ban on four adult channels.

Blaming television for fostering such tragedies, Fatih Karaca, chairman of the media board, said, "The bombardment of unfiltered information through television poses a threat to our culture."

Window into cultural divide

"Cultural products should help to strengthen relations within the family, to show respect to personal rights and social values, to solve problems in a democratic way," Karaca said. As Turkey prepares to begin negotiations for membership in the European Union late this year, many Europeans doubt whether this mostly Muslim nation is sufficiently European.

Turkish television provides a window into cultural differences--both through program content and the reaction the programs generate from Turkish authorities and the public.

Turkey's television programming generally follows international trends--lots of dramatic and romantic series, celebrity shows, pop star competitions, talk shows and, most recently, reality shows.

Some of these shows bridge the cultural divide; some do not. "The Apprentice" went bust in Turkey, for example, where audiences found Donald Trump a little too elitist. On the other hand, the "Big Brother" concept got off to a slow start, but with a few adjustments has become increasingly popular.

The difference between Turkish and Western TV is simple.

"In a word, it's sex," said Pelin Akat, international program coordinator for Sinevizyon, a television production company.

But Akat hit the ratings jackpot with reality shows with a Turkish twist: "Would You Be My Bride" and "May I Call You Mother-In-Law?"--in which 10 potential brides are put in an enclosed space with a mother-in-law from hell in hot pursuit of the perfect woman for her son.

Turkish audiences relate to the domineering mother-in-law. "Mom, why did you vote off Aysegul?" asked one lovelorn son. His mother replied, "Love? You don't know what love is."

Reaction to the shows and the new restrictions has been mixed. A commentator from the daily newspaper Aksam, Burhan Ayeri, warned that the ban on adult programming would draw criticism from the EU.

Watching her children play in Istanbul, Emine, who asked that only her first name be used, said: "I confess that I watch these shows. Although I know they are worthless, I don't think they should be banned. I would prefer to keep the remote control in my own hand, not the government's."

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6. - BBC - "French cloud Turkey's EU dreams":

ISTANBUL / 31 May 2005 / by Jonny Dymond

Barely minutes after the French vote came in senior politicians in Turkey were thundering their way to the microphones to say how nothing had changed.


"This referendum has no direct link with Turkey," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters. "There is no obstacle for us to start the [EU] talks."

Mr Gul's message was echoed by Ali Babacan, the economy minister who last week was appointed Turkey's chief EU negotiator.

The referendum, he said, was "an outcome that was to be expected".

And Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has devoted so much time to Turkey's European cause, appeared unruffled when he addressed his party in parliament 36 hours after the French vote result.

"This result has nothing to do with Turkey's candidacy," he said. "We are determined, we will start negotiations, there's no doubt about that."

'No link' to French 'Non'

In one sense, of course, all three men are right. The French vote was on the new EU constitution, not Turkey's EU membership, which even the most Turkey-friendly commentators acknowledge is a good decade away.

Indeed, there was a specific effort by the French government to separate out the two issues of the constitution and Turkish membership; before Turkey joins the EU the French people will have a separate referendum specifically to ratify further enlargement.

So just as Turkish politicians formed an orderly queue so that they might denounce the very idea of linking the French vote and Turkish membership, so did EU officials and some EU governments.

But whatever the official line might be in Turkey, the reaction of analysts and commentators is decidedly more downbeat and, some might say, realistic.

Pessimism

Yalci Dogan in the bestselling Hurriyet newspaper wrote that Turkish officials were "deceiving themselves" with their statements that Turkey was unaffected.

Derya Sazak in Milliyet wrote that the "No" vote was an expression of resistance to further enlargement.

More troubling than the direct impact of the vote for Turkey was the way it pointed to the future orientation of European politics.

President Jacques Chirac at times seemed like the only senior politician in France who openly backed Ankara's membership hopes.

Now his authority is dented and leaders hostile to Turkey's bid appear to be in the ascendant.

The French vote came hard on the heels of the German Social Democrats' loss of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the subsequent announcement of early general elections in Germany. So two of the biggest European players now appear to be heading out of the pro-Turkey camp.

That has not gone unnoticed in Turkey.

New Franco-German alliance?

"Slowly parties that say 'No' to Turkey will take over governments in Europe," writes Emin Colasan in Hurriyet.

"The elections in Germany and the referendum in France are the first signs. Europeans do not want us and they are making it more clear with their choice now."

Two names recur through Turkish commentary and analysis - those of Nicholas Sarkozy, a favourite for the 2007 French presidential elections, and Angela Merkel, leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU), tipped to win the next German elections.

Both have made very clear their opposition to Turkish membership.

A Merkel-Sarkozy axis could, it is thought, cause real problems for Turkey.

A postponement of the October start date for EU negotiations is thought highly unlikely; but a much more difficult and protracted set of negotiations suddenly looks likely.

The EU constitution was without doubt the main victim of the French vote.

But Turkey looks like it has been badly hurt.

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