US report labels Dec 17 as ‘scandal, slams Turkish gov’t, calls for respect for rule of law

The US State Department has expressed concerns over rule of law and judicial independence in Turkey, saying “law enforcement and the judiciary were subject to executive branch influence as the government reassigned thousands of police and prosecutors during the December 17 anti-corruption operation and subsequent scandal.”
The annual report, which reviews latest developments concerning on human rights in a number of countries, was released by the State Department on Thursday. The report reveals US concerns over series of human rights abuses in Turkey, with lingering questions over the direction the country is taking.

Touching on a wide array of issues concerning Turkey, the report gave a special place to the sweeping corruption scandal that first broke on Dec. 17 and has implicated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s close associates.

The report said Turkish “authorities have not established a pattern of investigating, indicting and convicting individuals accused of corruption, and there were concerns about the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of anticorruption cases.”

This came against backdrop of series of attempts by government, which opponents says is derailing the graft investigation through enacting new law granting stronger control to the government over judiciary. The government’s mass purges in judiciary and police forces also have become sources of concern both in Turkey and in the EU which is weary of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) clumsy handling of the corruption case.

“While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The European Commission noted in its October progress report that there was no progress in limiting the immunity of members of parliament and senior public officials in corruption-related cases or in establishing objective criteria for lifting their immunity,” the report said regarding legal immunity for the lawmakers.

The US rights report says Turkish government’s interference with freedom of expression and assembly is extremely problematic, citing the excessive use of police force against protesters during month-long Gezi Park protests last year. “Of particular note, authorities used excessive force in response to the summer’s Gezi Park protests, leading to mass casualties (including seven deaths) and an overall diminution of freedom of expression and press.”

“The penal code and anti-terror law retain multiple articles that restrict freedom of expression, the press, and the internet,” said the report pointing to simmering problems concerning the press freedom. With the draconian anti-terror law, dozens of journalist landed behind bars with indefinite period of detention. The report also addressed the existence of wide-ranging self-censorship among media outlets which are fearful of government backlash and avoid critical reporting.

The full summary on Turkey can be read here.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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