Scribes freed 2 days before court deadline
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Journalist Ahmet Şık, who was kept in prison for 375 days on accusations of aiding a terrorist organization, speaks to reporters after his release on March 11. AA photoTurkish officials are breathing a sigh of relief after two iconic journalists were freed from jail just two days before Ankara was to defend itself to the European Court of Human Rights in a case over the pair’s much-criticized lengthy detention.
Ankara’s defense will highlight the fact that famous journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık have been freed and will include the court’s reasoning that resulted in their release on March 12, according to Fikret İlkiz, a lawyer for Şık.
“However, this will not save them. We are hopeful that the court will determine that these arrests constituted a violation of the convention on human rights,” İlkiz told the Daily News.
“The deadline was yesterday [March 14], but we have demanded more time from the court,” a Justice Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. The ministry’s reply will be ready soon and will be submitted to the court within two weeks.
Şener and Şık, as well as Sait Çakır and Coşkun Musluk, were released from prison March 12 after having been held for over a year for alleged connections to a terror organization as part of the ongoing OdaTV case.
The two journalists applied to the European court last year on the grounds that they had been arrested without concrete evidence and had not been informed of the charges against them. The two also claimed their freedom of expression was being restricted. The Strasbourg-based court accepted the application and demanded the Turkish government’s defense in November 2011, setting March 14 as the deadline.
The court will ask for the plaintiffs’ assessment of the government’s defense, and will then announce its verdict on Şık and Şener’s application.
The government has faced mounting criticism from the European Union and international press associations as the number of journalists jailed in Turkey recently reached 105. Şık and Şener enjoy an international reputation; furor surrounded the confiscation of the former’s unpublished book by the police, while the latter has been designated a World Press Freedom Hero.
Justice Ministry takes over handling of European court defenses
The Justice Ministry’s newly established Human Rights Department has officially taken over the defense of Turkey in cases at the European court in a move to ensure better coordination and avoid gaffes such as those that occurred in the case of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
“This should be seen as part of our efforts to harmonize our judicial system with that of the European Union countries and reduce the number of cases taken to the European court,” a ministry official told the Daily News yesterday. “And we want to submit sound defenses.”
A ministry statement said yesterday that the department, created under a government decree of August 2011, will also ensure that ECHR rulings are promptly implemented and thus help eradicate human rights violations that have ensured that only Russia is sued more often than Turkey in such cases.
Under a protocol signed between the justice and foreign ministries last year, the department assumed responsibility on March 1 for drawing up Turkey’s defenses in cases brought before the European court, barring those which directly concern the country’s international relations and foreign policy.
Under the previous procedure, the Foreign Ministry drew up all the defenses on the basis of input provided by the Justice Ministry. In an infamous example of failed coordination, Dink was compared to Nazi leaders in a defense Turkey submitted over the journalist’s application appealing a conviction for “insulting Turkishness” before his murder in January 2007. The public outcry forced Ankara to relinquish its right to a defense in that case.
In an another effort to push Turkish judges and prosecutors to embrace European court norms, the department began publishing on its website translations of all of the court’s rulings concerning Turkey, as well as other rulings of significance. A total of 1,400 rulings have been uploaded so far, the statement said.