Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said that Turkey took the European lead in the ranking of "journalists in prison" and with a high probability even to lead on a global scale.
Furthermore, Hammarberg studied allegations and indictments related to journalists and claimed that just as the journalists say themselves he also got the impression that they were not being imprisoned due to "terroristic activities" but on the grounds of their writings. "Critical writings are considered as terrorist propaganda. This is very wrong", Hammarberg stated.
Hammarberg closely followed the trial procedures regarding the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, editor-in-chief of the Armenian Agos newspaper, and also observed the final hearing on 17 January. He called the result of the trial "disappointing" and emphasized that the investigation should not have been finished at that point but continued instead.
We talked with Hammarberg about the Uludere massacre, press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey, detained journalists, terror laws and the rise of nationalism in Europe.
34 villagers were killed in a bombing by warplanes of the Turkish Armed Forces in Uludere. The spokesperson of the government and ruling party announced that the villagers "were killed as the result of a mistake" and that "a mistake was made". The investigation carried out about the massacre is confidential. How do you assess the attitude of the authorities regarding the Uludere massacre and the subsequent statements?
This is a terrible tragedy and an event that cannot be accepted. Conducting an impartial investigation is of great importance. The investigation launched into the incident must be audited by independent observers and institutions; an independent investigation should be allowed.
The results of the investigation should be shared with the public in a transparent manner. The people must know what really happened. This is necessary in order to avoid such incidents in the future.
In addition, efforts must be taken not to ignore the traumata the people living in Uludere experienced and to resolve these traumata. The survivors of the bombardment and the relatives who lost their loved ones should be given compensation.
"Guiltless people arrested and tried in KCK case"
Deputies of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) announced that about 4000 people were arrested in the scope of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) trial. BDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş said that the arrest of politicians in the course of KCK operations constituted an obstacle before a peaceful solution [of the Kurdish question]. How do these arrests and other oppressions affect a human rights-based solution of the Kurdish question?
The KCK trial brings flaws in the definition of "membership in an illegal organization" to the surface. Offences like "aiding and abetting" or "making propaganda for an illegal organization" are being approached in a very broad scope by the prosecutors. In my opinion, also many innocent people are being tried and arrested.
Judges and prosecutors must interpret these concepts in accordance with reality. This is one of the biggest problems of the KCK trial. As long as we continue like this, the people's distrust in the justice system will only grow larger. Continuing tensions between the Kurds and the state are also an important problem in terms of human rights. We have to focus on how to reach a peaceful solution rather than military means.
"Criticism is not terrorism but a legal right"
How do you assess the way concepts like "terrorist" and "terrorism" are being defined in the justice system in Turkey and in the Anti-Terror Law?
As I have said in my report about the administration of justice, the concept of terrorism is not defined precisely. Criticism can be perceived as "terrorism" or "supporting terrorism". On the contrary, voicing criticism is a right in a free society. Regardless of the harshness of the criticism it is wrong to interpret it as terrorism.
The pressure applied by the United States of America under the name of "security measures" increased after 11 September. In many countries, the opposition began to be called terrorists and this way it was aimed to suppress criticism and silence the opposition.
"Why was the Dink trial finished?"
You closely observed the Dink murder trial and its result and you attended the final hearing. All defendants were acquitted of charges of "membership in an illegal organization" and Judge Rüstem Eryılmaz issued a press release related to the decision. Was it a fair decision?
This surprising decision was a big disappointment. My first thoughts were 'Why was this case closed?', 'Why was the investigation not extended?' This case can be evaluated as a real test. The forces and organizations behind this murder should have been revealed by deepening the investigation.
Also, the ones who knew about the murder in advance and who did nothing to prevent it should be questioned. This bewildering and wrong decision must be corrected by all means.
"Journalists are imprisoned because of their writings"
There are currently about one hundred journalists in prison in Turkey. The government argues that the journalists are not in prison due to their writings but because of "terrorist actions or supporting terrorism". You said that the definition of terrorism also covered those who think critically. What about the situation of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey?
Compared to European countries, Turkey is the country with the most journalists in prison. Most likely, it is the first in the world too.
The argument that journalists are not in prison on the grounds of their writings but because of membership in an organization or propaganda brings us back to the definition of "terrorism".
The relations of journalists with terrorism cannot be verified. The impression that journalists are being imprisoned due to their writings is being confirmed when you analyse the evidence shown. This environment is creating pressure on journalists outside the prison; they are afraid of being arrested. This is a serious issue to consider. Related reactions in society show that people in Turkey have a better sense of justice.
You devoted a large section of your book to islamophobia in Europe. Looking at recent election results in Europe, we see an increase of votes for nationalist parties. Is it correct to speak of an increased hostility towards immigrants and growing nationalism?
Yes, absolutely... We can say that one of the main reasons for this is the felt impact of the economic crisis. People are afraid of losing their jobs, so they tend to have a more sceptical approach towards immigrants because they think that 'they will take their jobs'.
Radical groups are getting stronger in many countries. Some were successful in the elections and we see them as part of the government now. This is a worrying picture. (AS/VK)
* Click here to read the full report on "Administration of justice and protection of human rights in Turkey".