The European Union has expressed serious concerns about Turkey’s progress in meeting political criteria for full membership in the bloc, paying significant attention to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, lengthy prosecution and detention periods and seeking a political solution to the Kurdish issue, in two separate reports to be announced Wednesday in Brussels.
The reports on Turkey’s progress are tough on Turkey, which has in the last decade enjoyed the comfort of being praised in similar reports from EU bodies.
“Concerns are growing regarding Turkey’s lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria. The situation regarding the respect of fundamental rights on the ground continues to be the source of serious preoccupation,” the draft Enlargement Strategy Report read. This report will be announced simultaneously with Turkey’s Progress Report.
The report cites recurring infringements of the rights to liberty and security and to a fair trial, as well as of the freedom of expression, calling on the government to present swiftly the fourth judicial reform package, addressing all core issues affecting the exercise of freedom of expression.
The EU’s report comes during Greek Cyprus’s rotating EU presidency, which has caused Ankara to freeze its dialogue with the EU Presidency, and amid concerns that the country’s democratic progress has slowed down, especially due to restrictions on freedom of expression. On that issue of the freedom of expression, the reports say the increasing incidence of violations of freedom of expression raises serious concerns, and freedom of the media continues to be further restricted in practice. The increasing tendency to imprison journalists and media workers and distributors fuelled these concerns. A large number of cases have been brought against writers, academics and journalists writing and working in Kurdish. High-level government and state officials and the military repeatedly turn publicly against the press and launch court cases. On a number of occasions journalists have been fired after signing articles openly critical of the government. More than 2,800 students are held in detention, mostly on terrorism charges.
Regarding the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon cases, the reports say concerns persist over the right of defense, lengthy pre-trial detention and excessively long and catch-all indictments.
Although they offer a chance to strengthen confidence in the proper functioning of Turkey’s democratic institutions and the rule of law, these cases have been overshadowed by real concerns about their wide scope and the shortcomings in the judicial proceedings. Moreover, they tend to contribute to the polarization of Turkish politics. Judicial proceedings need to be speeded up to ensure the rights of the defense and to promote transparency in these cases, the reports say.
Deniz Feneri reflects government’s pressure on judiciary
With regard to the judiciary in general, the reports say some progress has been made in this area, with the adoption of the third judicial package constituting a step in the right direction, although it has failed to sufficiently address problematic areas. Further efforts are needed with regard to the independence, impartiality and efficiency of the judiciary. The report cites the Deniz Feneri case as an example reflecting pressure from the executive on the judiciary.
The reports claim there has been no progress towards a solution of the Kurdish issue. Terrorist attacks have intensified, as have military operations. The detention of elected politicians and human rights defenders gives rise to serious concerns. In incidents such as the Uludere killings of civilians, calls on the authorities for effective and swift investigation and a transparent public inquiry have not been met. There has been no direct apology, from either the military or civilian authorities.
Regarding Turkey’s new constitution, the reports say it is unclear what the follow-up of the Constitution Reconciliation Committee’s work will be. There are some limits on transparency, with submissions to the committee by civil society and others removed from or not published on the Internet. Key challenges to consensus are on the issues of separation of powers, state-society-religion relations and the Kurdish issue. Maintaining a spirit of compromise and ensuring the broadest possible consultation remain key for the legitimacy of a new constitution.
The reports also say prison overcrowding remains problematic, especially in terms of sanitation and other physical conditions. A reform of the complaints system in prisons is needed, and children, especially girls, are not held separately from adults in all prisons, the report says.
Culture of Intolerance
On the issue of the reopening of Halki Seminary the report says non-Muslim communities continue to face problems due to their lack of legal personality, with adverse effects on property rights and access to justice. Restrictions on the training of clergy remain. Despite announcements by the authorities, the Halki (Heybeliada) Greek Orthodox Seminary remains closed. Non-Muslim religious communities have reported several instances of hate crimes. Anti-Semitism and hate speech in the media has not been punished. There is a culture of intolerance of minorities. Missionaries are widely perceived as a threat to the integrity of the country and to the Muslim religion. Turkey’s overall approach to minorities remains restrictive, and full respect for and protection of language, culture and fundamental rights in accordance with European standards have yet to be achieved, the report says.
The report addresses the concerns of Alevis, saying Alevis were concerned by the marking of many houses belonging to Alevi citizens in a number of provinces and by incidents against them.
And regarding Cyprus the report says the EU urges the avoidance of any kind of threat, source of friction or action that could damage good neighborly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes. It calls n Turkey fulfill its obligation to fully implement the Additional Protocol and make progress towards normalization of bilateral relations with Cyprus.