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Free press in Turkey on EU's agenda

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/28/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The European Parliament has called on Turkey 'to uphold the principles of press freedom' and condemned a violent police crackdown on student demonstrations.

The European Parliament in a draft resolution has called on the Turkish government “to uphold the principles of press freedom” and condemned the violent police crackdown on student demonstrations at Ankara University in December.

“The European Parliament is concerned about the deterioration of freedom of the press, some acts of censorship and the growing self-censorship within the Turkish media, including on the Internet,” said the draft resolution, written by the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The draft evaluated Turkey’s 2010 progress report and made recommendations for this year’s upcoming report. It is expected to be adopted in the European Parliament within the next two weeks.

Though the resolution welcomes a number of the government’s “symbolic and goodwill gestures, as well as a number of concrete steps, in the areas of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, protection of minorities and cultural rights,” it said systematic improvements are needed to “fully recognize the rights of minorities.”

The draft says the European Parliament encourages the Turkish government to provide its democratic opening with a “new impetus, and calls upon the opposition to constructively support and engage in this process.”

The text also calls for a new media law in Turkey in order to achieve full freedom of the press, saying such as law must address issues of “independence, ownership and administrative control.”

Underlining the importance of independent press for a democratic society, the draft resolution pointed to “the essential role of the judiciary to protect and enhance the freedom of the press, thereby guaranteeing the public space for a free debate and contributing to a proper functioning of the system of checks and balances.”

The text welcomes Turkey’s new radio and TV laws, drawing attention to the increase in the legal percentage of Turkish media companies that foreign entities are allowed to own. It expresses concern, however, at “the fact that broadcasting can be stopped on grounds of national security without the use of a court order or ruling by a judge.”

In the resolution, the European Parliament says it “notes with concern the practice of bringing criminal prosecutions against journalists communicating evidence of human-rights violations and other issues in the public interest,” especially over articles about breaching the confidentiality of a criminal investigation and attempting to influence the judiciary.

It considers “the criminalization of opinions as a key obstacle to the protection of human rights in Turkey and deplores disproportioned restrictions to the freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” the draft says.

The draft resolution urges Turkish authorities to strictly comply with its international human-rights obligations in this respect by amending its relevant legislations and by training its police and judiciary.

It calls on the Turkish government to finalize the review on the legal framework on freedom of expression and to bring it, without delay, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights case law.

While appreciating the progress made in reforming the judiciary, the European Parliament asks the Turkish government to implement the constitutional amendments adopted in this area with full respect for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches, as well as judicial independence and impartiality, and in line with European standards, the draft says.

Mentioning the progress made on civil-military relations, the draft calls on the Parliament to become active in ensuring parliamentary oversight of security forces, including full oversight of the defense budget.

Regarding alleged coup plans such as Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer), the draft resolution says the European Parliament is concerned about the excessively long pre-trial detention periods in Turkey and stresses the need for effective judicial guarantees for all suspects.

The text also expresses the Parliament’s concerns about the ongoing trials of 151 Kurdish political activists, including eight serving elected local mayors, in Diyarbakır, which it said represents interference in legal political activities.

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