Justice Minister vows greater freedoms through new Human Rights Action Plan
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
An action plan being penned with the contribution of the Council of Europe and civil society to boost democracy and human rights in Turkey will be announced in 2020, the justice minister has said, underlining the role of the courts in distinguishing criticism from crime in terms of enhancing the scope of the freedom of expression.
“We are in a process of drafting a human rights action plan with the cooperation of the Council of Europe and other stakeholders. We will have a meeting with the members of the human rights committee of the Parliament where the members of the opposition parties will also be present. We consider the upcoming human rights action plan as a large democratization and freedoms package,” Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül told Hürriyet Daily News during a visit to Demirören Media Center on Dec. 19.
The minister informed that the action plan will be ready in 2020 and will serve as another leg of the government’s efforts to strengthen democracy, human rights and rule of law.
The Turkish government has long been subject to criticism from the European Union and the Council of Europe for the deteriorated state of democracy and human rights in Turkey. Restrictions on the use of freedom of expression and of assembly, as well as structural problems, in front of an independent and impartial judicial system are at the core of these criticisms.
The government has introduced a judicial strategy reform package in the recent months with an objective to start a process to ameliorate the state of democracy, human rights and rule of law. “The future of the state should be based on the principle of rule of law,” said the minister, adding that a second judicial package is under construction to move forward in terms of democratization.
“As can be recalled, the first judicial package was crafted in a way to increase the scope of freedoms,” the minister said, referring to an amendment brought to the anti-terror law emphasizing that criticisms through the media or an expression of a thought should not be regarded as crime.
On criticisms that the implementation process failed to have a genuine effect on the freedom of expression, Minister Gül underlined his position by saying that “except for defamation and statements that constitute crime, expressing an opinion should not be prosecuted. In fact, it’s a universal principle.”
“Nobody should be afraid of criticism or of differing opinions. The criticisms will not weaken you but will strengthen you, and you can learn from different opinions,” Gül said, while asking how to distinguish criticism from crime.
“Obviously, if there is a praise of an offense or terrorism, you cannot see it as a criticism. The answer on whether it’s criticism or crime will be decided by the court. And there is an appeal mechanism. The Supreme Court of Appeals can overturn sentences given by the local courts on the grounds that it’s purely criticism and not crime,” he added.
Proportionality is key
Another problem in regard to the Turkish justice system is long imprisonment, which turns into a form of punishment for those who have not been convicted of a crime. One of the symbolic cases is about Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman and civil society activist who is in prison for more than two years without conviction.
Minister Gül did not elaborate on the Kavala case because it’s an ongoing judicial process but wanted to express his views in general terms. Informing that the decision to keep a suspect in prison is given by the judges upon the parameters outlined in the dossier of the suspect, Gül stressed, “A limitation to the duration of imprisonment has been introduced in the first judicial package in order to avoid turning it into punishment. I always believe that proportionality should be imposed and that the imprisonment should be in line with discretionary.”
Violence against women
Another important topic the minister is heavily involved in is a joint effort by government institutions to take measures to stop violence against women. Underlining that fight against violence against woman should be handled with the participation of all the governmental bodies, civil society and the people themselves, Gül recalled that the justice is concerned with the issue only after the violence has committed.
“So, we should altogether be focused on preventing the violence,” he stressed, informing that there is ongoing cooperation between his ministry and the family and interior ministries.
“As for the judicial leg of this issue, progress was observed in terms of issuing all necessary regulations and updating the existing ones. We will establish special units in every courthouse to deal with the victims. Once they apply to the justice, they will feel secure that somebody is with them,” he said.