Amnesty: Fourth Judicial Package “Another Missed Opportunity”

“[A] missed opportunity for the government to deliver genuine human rights reform.”  That is how John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director, described the much awaited Fourth Judicial Package that, with Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s confirmation, has been passed into law this week.

Amnesty activists in Istanbul staging protest on April 6, 2013

Amnesty activists in Istanbul staging protest on April 6, 2013

Yesterday, Amnesty gave its official response to the judicial package, saying that, “the reform package will allow abusive prosecutions to continue, forcing still more political activists, journalists and human rights defenders to face jail sentences for carrying out their work.”

The recent conviction of Fazıl Say only underlines the extent to which these legal reforms do not go nearly far enough in protecting freedom of expression in Turkey.  The “conviction of pianist Fazil Say for ‘insulting religious values’ demonstrates the need for Turkey’s outdated and restrictive laws to be changed,” Dalhuisen said.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey, notes that “Turkey has a history of broad and vague laws which have been applied in violation of the right to freedom of expression. Turkey’s lawmakers should have put an end to this.”  Gardner goes on ot say:

This reform bill afforded the Turkish authorities an opportunity to end the prosecution of individuals for membership of a terrorist organization based simply on the fact that they had written a book, or given a lecture, allegedly supporting the aims of a terrorist organization. Should we now understand that the government wants such abusive prosecutions to continue?

As I wrote last week, “[the] ink was hardly dry on the Fourth Judicial Package, when Ali Babacan, the Deputy Prime Minister, began speaking of a Fifth and Sixth Judicial Package.” Yet, the outlines of what Turkey must do are clear.

Responding to media criticism of the Say case, Ömer Çelik, minister for culture and tourism, said “I would not wish anyone to be put on trial for words that have been expressed. This is especially true of artists and cultural figures”, he said speaking at the London Book Fair, but stressed that there was “a court decision.”

The problem with this is that it was within the power of Çelik’s government to dismantle the legal flaws that allowed for Say’s conviction in the first place.  And they refused to do so.

Join us in ensuring that the next judicial reform in Turkey offers true freedom to that country’s citizens.

Howard Eissenstat, St. Lawrence University

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