Judicial package fails to get opposition’s support
A package including abolition of specially authorized courts in a move to enable retrial of hundreds of jailed military officials is criticized by opposition for ‘hiding the government’s dirty laundry’
Supporters of jailed military officials in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot case hold a protest, holding placards that reads ‘Justice for everyone.’ CİHAN photo
The package, which was presented to Parliament on Feb. 6, includes the abolition of the controversial specially authorized courts (ÖYM), a move expected to clear the way for hundreds of military officers jailed for coup plotting to be retried. Under the amendments, the eight ÖYMs that convicted soldiers in mass trials in 2012 and 2013 will be abolished and their case files passed to regular criminal courts.
The CHP has long criticized the ÖYMs, but on Feb. 6 the party’s deputy parliamentary group chair, Akif Hamzaçebi, stated that repealing them was not enough.
“We don’t definitively accept this package, apart from a few positive arrangements in it. It is understood that the government has hidden a vast amount of its dirty laundry, by saying things like, ‘I am lifting the 10-years-long detention duration, I am abolishing the Specially Authorized Courts [ÖYMs],’” Hamzaçebi said.
The CHP supports the abolition of the ÖYMs as well as of Article 10 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK) that authorizes the ÖYMs, but other articles are impossible to support, he added.
“There is no arrangement about the duration of detention,” Hamzaçebi said. “The five-year long detention duration in the Code on Criminal Procedure [CMK] is in no way being interfered with [in the package],” said Hamzaçebi, recalling that the Constitutional Court had ruled that detention periods lasting almost five years, in the cases of now-released CHP deputies Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, were in violation of the Article 19 of the Constitution, which covers the right to liberty and security.
“This is obvious. The Constitutional Court regards almost five-year-long detention periods as a human rights violation. In a country where the Constitutional Court’s ruling is such, saying ‘I am abolishing 10-year-long detention durations,’ is not a democratic step,” Hamzaçebi maintained, adding that the package did not include any element that would pave the way for retrials either.
Limiting court-ordered phone surveillance
According to the package, law enforcement officers will have to openly declare the owner of the line that they want to tap, while requesting permission for wiretapping.
The duration for wiretapping is also lowered from six months to three months. Thus, the practice of numerous extensions concerning crimes committed within the framework of activities of an organization will be ended. In such cases, a three-month-long extension, at most, will be possible.
Since a new procedure will be applied for the making of decisions about wiretapping, the assignment of secret investigators and technical surveillance, in order for earlier decisions made concerning such practices to remain valid, it will be obligatory to obtain a new decision within 15 days.
Opposition calls on Turkish President Gül to veto law on Internet
The president should take up a position on behalf of democracy and freedom, main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kılıçdaroğlu says. AA Photo
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu demanded Feb. 7 that Gül veto the controversial Internet bill, which was approved by Parliament early on Feb. 6.
“The president should take up a position on behalf of democracy and freedom. The impartiality of the president means something different,” Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters in Istanbul on Feb. 7. “To say that ‘regulations against laws come and I sign them despite clearly [problems with them]’ degrades the office of the president. The president pledges loyalty to the Constitution. And he has to do what is necessary. A president cannot defend bans. A president cannot defend legal regulations which were brought by a government saying they will limit freedom,” he said according to the Doğan news agency.
Kılıçdaroğlu has underlined that Turkey needs a policy which needs criticism from the media instead of one that intervenes in the media.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli also lashed out at the Internet law, tweeting Feb. 6 that the media, which was supposed to be impartial and free, has become a toy operated via remote-control.
“The guards of Internet are in a queue to pressure the freedom of information in Turkey,” Bahçeli wrote.
Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan also criticized the bill, sarcastically calling on the president to veto it. “I will unfollow Mr. President on Twitter if he does not veto this bill,” said Kaplan.
The United States also voiced concerns on the proposal, saying it was not “compatible with freedom of expression.”
“We share the concerns recently expressed by the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media – and there was a whole statement that I’d point you to – that these proposed measures are not compatible with international standards on freedom of expression,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Feb. 6.
“They also have the potential to significantly impact free expression, investigative journalism, the protection of journalist sources, political discourse, and access to information over the Internet. So those are all areas we would be concerned about,” she added.
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s top official responsible for the media, said in a statement on Jan. 31 that the bill could further restrict freedom of expression in Turkey.
“If the new measures are adopted, they would place a disproportionate burden on Internet service and hosting providers,” Mijatovic said following an assessment of the amendments included in the bill.
Psaki said Washington was actively monitoring the new legislation, confirming that Washington’s position was in line with that of the OSCE.
Turkey tightens internet controls as gov't battles graft scandal
Protesters shout anti-gov’t slogans as one of them carries a placard with a picture of the PM. (Photo: Reuters)
7 February 2014 /TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH REUTERS, ANKARA
Turkey's Parliament has approved Internet controls enabling web pages to be blocked within hours in what the opposition decried as part of a government bid to stifle a corruption scandal with methods more suited to "times of coups."
“What do you want to limit with the ban? No matter what bans they [the government] introduce, people will simply break them,” he added.
Social media and video sharing sites have been awash with alleged recordings of ministers, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and assorted business allies, presented as proof of wrongdoing. Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity.
Under a bill passed late on Wednesday, telecommunications authorities can block access to material within four hours without a prior court order, tightening restrictions imposed in a widely criticized law adopted by the EU candidate in 2007.
Özcan Yeniçeri, deputy of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), expressed his hope on Friday that President Abdullah Gül would veto the bill. At a press meeting held in Parliament, Yeniçeri maintained that the government, after taking most of the media under its control, is now attempting now to control the Internet. Were such legislation to be approved, Turkey would resemble North Korea, China, Iran and Vietnam, the MHP deputy maintained.
"This is against the constitution. Bans like this exist in times of coups and have not been able to conceal any corruption," Umut Oran, a deputy from the CHP told the general assembly.
Erdoğan's critics say his response to the corruption scandal is further evidence of the authoritarian tendencies of a man long held up by the West as a potential model of democratic leadership in the Muslim world. It has raised concerns about stability in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year, helping drive the already fragile lira to record lows.
The bill also received a negative reaction from people representing the Internet sector. According to Orkut Murat Yılmaz, executive board member of the Alternative Informatics Association, the new Internet bill is not a censorship law but rather a monitoring law. “[The new Internet bill] does not prevent the abuse of people, but it does completely violate privacy,” Yılmaz told Today's Zaman.
RotaHaber Editor-in-Chief Ünal Tarık said televisions and newspapers have already faced a blackout and the aim of the new Internet bill is to prevent people from reaching information and documents, as well as cover up corruption. Expressing hope that the bill would be vetoed by the president, Tarık told Today's Zaman, “The rejection of the bill by the president would be a turning point in politics.”
Transport, Maritime Affairs & Communication Minister Minister Lütfü Elvan said criticism of the new law, including from the European Union, was based on misinformation and that the law was aimed at enabling authorities to block specific content rather than impose blanket bans on websites.
"In many European countries [the laws] are much harsher. ... None of the criticism bears any relation to reality," he said.
The Internet legislation, which still needs the approval of President Abdullah Gül, will allow for the storage of individuals' browsing histories for up to two years.
Nils Muiznieks, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said the amendments are in the "opposite direction" to European standards on freedom of expression and of the media.
"The hasty and opaque manner in which these amendments have been pushed through parliament, without any genuine consultation of the major stakeholders, is also regrettable."
The graft scandal erupted on Dec. 17 with the arrest of businessmen close to Erdoğan and three ministers' sons, and has grown into one of the biggest threats to his 11-year rule.
Erdoğan has portrayed the scandal as an attempt by a US-based cleric with influence in the police and judiciary to unseat him and has responded by reassigning thousands of officers and more than 200 prosecutors in a purge. The cleric, Fethullah Gülen, denies the accusation.
The government says the Internet reforms, sent to Parliament before Dec. 17 but broadened in recent weeks, are aimed at protecting individual privacy, not gagging its critics.
Highly centralizedTurkey already has strict Internet laws under which thousands of websites have been blocked, from news portals viewed as close to Kurdish militants to gay dating sites.
More than 40,000 sites are blocked, according to Turkey's engelliweb.com, which tracks access restrictions. Almost all Internet traffic passes through the infrastructure of Turk Telekom, which is 32 percent state-owned and used to count new Interior Minister Efkan Ala among its board members.
Turk Telekom declined to comment on the new law.
Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and founder of Renesys, a US-based firm that carries out real-time analysis of Internet traffic and provides intelligence for network companies, said the move could hit investment.
"It takes them in the direction of Iran and China, countries where there's a strong degree of regulation. You can't provide services unless you retain your license. That gives the government a large degree of control," he said.
"Istanbul is a very logical place to put data centers if you want to serve the whole ... Middle East," he told Reuters. "But because of the problems the government has potentially created ... you're more likely to go to Budapest or Sofia."
The 2007 law prohibits insults to modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as well as encouragement to suicide, sexual abuse of children, the supply of illegal drugs, promotion of prostitution and unauthorized gambling.
Access to video-sharing site YouTube was blocked between 2008 and 2010 because it hosted content viewed as insulting Ataturk, who founded the modern secular republic in 1923.
Under the new law, decisions to remove material taken by the telecoms authority (TİB) will be subject to judicial review. A court will rule within 24 hours. TİB can appeal.
"This proposal ... gives the powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary completely to TİB, which is turning into an intelligence agency," professors from Istanbul's Bilgi University and Ankara University said this week.
"From the perspective of fundamental rights and freedoms, it indicates the start of a period of great darkness," professors Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak wrote.