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25th Feb 2024

Rights watchdog to visit Turkey over rule of law

The head of the human rights watchdog Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, is going to Turkey next week amid a proposed roadmap from Ankara to fastrack EU-required reforms, in order to lift visa restrictions on Turks.

But his visit, the third to Turkey since the failed military coup in July 2016, also comes amid renewed tensions between Ankara and the EU.

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Jagland is hoping detained journalists will be released from jail and is meeting Turkey's ministers of justice and foreign affairs to discuss options when it comes to the state of emergency and the freedom of expression.

"Our principle is that journalists should not be locked up merely for reporting about terrorism. Writing about terrorists doesn't automatically make you a terrorist yourself," Jagland's spokesperson Daniel Holtgen, said in an email.

Turkey's troubled justice system will also be on the agenda. Last month, the nation's top constitutional court demanded the release of two reporters, Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay but later reportedly changed its position. Both are facing life sentences.

Holtgen said the constitutional court is seen as "key to implementing the European Convention of Human Rights in Turkey."

The Altan and Alpay case appears to have resonated with Turkey's ambassador to the European Union, Faruk Kaymakci, who told reporters last week the country is going through a difficult time.

"It is a very interesting case but the problem again here is because we are going through a very complex time, a very complicated time," he said.

Turkey has dismissed since mid-2016 over 100,000 people suspected of having links to the Fethullah Gulen movement, which Ankara blames for the failed military coup. Around 4,000 judges had also been dismissed.

Kaymakci said some 42,000 people had since returned to their jobs but the number is disputed. The Stockholm Center for Freedom, an NGO, cites Turkish government figures that put it closer to 3,600 as of the end of last month.

Turkey had also set up a so-called Ohal commission, at the demand of the Council of Europe, to review the cases of people dismissed. The process is long. Out of the 105,000 applications submitted, some 1,562 have been reviewed. Of those, 42 were reinstated.

Other people in prison include Taner Kilic, the head of Amnesty International's Turkey office. Taner has been detained since last June on charges he is a member of a terrorist organisation.

Turkey's visa roadmap

Kaymakci had also presented the European Commission on Wednesday a plan to meet the remaining EU-required benchmarks in order for Turkish citizens to travel without a visa to an EU member state.

Chief commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters the ambassador had spoken with vice-president Frans Timmermans in Strasbourg.

The outstanding benchmarks requires Turkey, among other things, to amend its anti-terror laws.

Asked if Ankara had made any headway, Schinas declined to elaborate, noting instead that the discussions are ongoing.

"I think the next step would be the leaders meeting between the president of the European commission, the president of the European Council, the president of the Republic of Turkey on the 26 March in Varnia. We will take it from there," he said.

The proposed anti-terror law reform appears minor given Turkish media reports, which describe it as a "technical" readjustment rather than as broad amendment.

Earlier this week, Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallstrom cancelled her upcoming visit to the country in protest of Turkey's military campaign in northern Syria.

The Netherlands had also formally withdrawn its ambassador to Turkey. The Dutch row kicked off when the Netherlands barred Turkish ministers from campaigning inside the country last year.

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