The small touches of Justice Minister Gül
Turkey, the EU and the U.S. recently met to discuss the arrest of journalists and human rights activists.
EU lawmakers decided on Oct. 20 to reduce “pre-accession financial support” promised to Turkey. The architect of the decision, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the step represented the bloc’s reaction to human rights problems in Turkey.
The Germans have also proposed suspending membership negotiations between the EU and Turkey, as well as targeting the Turkish banking system.
The recent Berlin-Ankara tensions began with the arrest of German citizens on Turkish soil, notably journalist Deniz Yücel. They reached a peak on July 5 with the arrest of human rights activist Peter Steudtner on Büyükada, an island near Istanbul.
On Oct. 25 eight suspects arrested in the Büyükada case were released. Two foreigners were among them.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel subsequently said he was pleased with the court’s decision. “This is an encouraging signal; the first step,” he said.
While Gabriel stated that they would keep on working toward the release of other Germans detained in Turkey, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert wrote the following message on Twitter: “Finally! Peter Steudtner and the other human rights activists are released. We are happy for them and our thoughts are with those still in prison.”
Meanwhile, other important developments concerning human rights and free speech have taken place behind the scenes. On July 19 Bekir Bozdağ was dismissed as justice minister and was replaced by Abdulhamit Gül.
Eight days later, on July 27, the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court ordered the release of seven suspects. Ten days later, on Aug. 8, head of the Turkish Press Council Pınar Türenç visited daily Cumhuriyet journalists at Istanbul’s Silivri Prison. These are the same journalists as those for whom the court ordered continued detention.
Under the rule of former justice minister Bozdağ, journalists who applied to visit their colleagues in prison were almost always rejected.
Further positive steps took place subsequently. On Sept. 22 daily Sözcü’s online editor Mediha Olgun was released. On Sept. 26 columnist Kadri Gürsel was allowed to stand trial without arrest. On Sept. 29 Pınar Türenç visited main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Enis Berberoğlu in Maltepe Prison. On Oct. 9 the Court of Appeal announced its reversal of the district court’s decision concerning Enis Berberoğlu. On Oct. 24 singer Atilla Taş and journalist Murat Aksoy were released.
European diplomats have been following these developments more closely than we are. In our meetings they often ask us whether such positive steps will continue.
So will they continue? I don’t know how the courts will rule on the arrested Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies, Berberoğlu, daily Cumhuriyet staff members Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık, Akın Atalay and Gökmen Ulu from daily Sözcü.
But I do know that Gül has always been careful about protecting his juristic and democratic identity since he first became a member of the People’s Voice Party (HAS Party) years ago.
It should also be remembered that Gül appointed Selahaddin Menteş, a judge known for his sensitivity to human rights, deputy secretary of the Justice Ministry.
For what it’s worth, I expect the stances of both Gül and Menteş to continue to change current negative perceptions of Turkey in the West, thereby reducing the distance between Turkey and Europe.