Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 174)



  160. Could I also ask you about journalists and the media? I spoke to a gentleman who was Turkey-watching yesterday afternoon and he did not seem to think there was much of a problem in this area, and yet we have some documentation here today indicating that there is. What is your assessment of the extent to which there is independent media, both broadcasting and written word, and to what extent is it tolerated?
  (Dr Wedel) there are independent journalists, and very courageous journalists, who report human rights violations. There is self-censorship within the media bodies, for example, that such articles are not being published. On the other hand, we have numerous trials in which journalists are on trial for the statements they have made in their articles and also radio stations, television stations, newspapers, can be closed down for a number of days or weeks because of single articles.

  161. For instance? What broadcasting has been closed down, albeit temporarily, for what kind of event? Could you give us an example?
  (Dr Wedel) These can be statements which are perceived as insulting to different state bodies but they can also be statements on the Kurdish issue or on the role of Islam which are perceived as being against the secular nation of the state.

  162. So in fact if I were a Turkish journalist I could or would be curtailed if I advocated an Islamic state? Is that correct?
  (Dr Wedel) Indeed, but you do not even have to go so far. We have the example of an owner of a religious journal who is now in prison because he said that the earthquake was a kind of warning from God for a sinful way of life.

  163. Which is a view which I would have thought elsewhere in the European Union would be tolerable. Am I also allowed to argue that there should be secession of any part of the—to what extent would the big heavy hand come down, just for advocating it?
  (Dr Wedel) Any statement on the Kurdish issue, which does not even have to go as far as you just mentioned, can have the effect that a trial is opened against you under Article 8 of the-anti-terror law, and this article in the recent law amendment last week has even been broadened, so oral and written statements were punishable, but now also visual propaganda has been included and there is an opportunity to increase the sentence. The law foresees one to three years' imprisonment for such propaganda, and then the new wording is "if the act does not require a heavier penalty", and then the next sentence says, "If this act is committed in a form that encourages the use of terrorist methods the sentence will be increased by a third", so the last sentence clearly indicates that even if you do not encourage the use of terrorist methods you can be tried and convicted under Article 8 of the anti-terror law.

  164. Are the Kurds the only secessionists?
  (Dr Wedel) There are other ethnic minorities in Turkey who started to use their language in a more public way. I am not aware of any recent trials related to that, but there have been trials, for example, for statements in the Laz language, but that is not an area which is so contested.

  165. Are either you or your colleague able to amplify, because it might not be mainstream for Amnesty International, to the extent that minority languages and cultures are encouraged or discouraged or is it neutral? I am not just preoccupied with the Kurds but I also mean the other communities. Is there accommodation within the constitution for municipalities that are dominated by a particular grouping to have their administration in that particular language? I am not just talking about language but language seems to be the main shibboleth of cultural identity.
  (Dr Wedel) That is an extremely sensitive area in Turkey. Under the Lausanne Treaty some cultural rights have been given to the Christian minorities or religious minorities only, but at that time the idea was that there are no ethnic Muslim minorities within the country, and on the basis of that understanding of nationhood—the notion of ethnicity is not used but of Turkish nation—there is no support, encouragement or whatever for any languages used by Muslim minorities as far as I know. To the contrary, that is a huge problem.

  166. The final point I want to put to you is really this: it seems to me in the world we think we know who the goodies are and we know who some of the baddies are, if I can put it in quite simple terms. Turkey demonstrably has a parliamentary system of government and it does have a judicial structure, although we have talked about some of the deficiencies in both those areas. It is trying to find the threshold which we the European Union, and indeed the USA, can test. What is the line which brings you demonstrably within western European Union norms? I think that is probably something for the governments to discuss but do you get the impression that in a sense the real criteria, the benchmark, the line which they have to cross in all these areas—freedom of expression, judiciary, military controlled by democratic process, civilian military control—is something which really has not been sufficiently spelt out, and is not quite understood?
  (Dr Wedel) Do you mean in Turkey?

  167. Yes.
  (Dr Wedel) I think there are members of the government as well as within civil society who would share this view and who are strongly committed to what you have presented as European values but it is not shared by all members of the government.

  Mr Mackinlay: We were in Washington some years ago with this Committee and I remember Senator Liebermann said, "Why can't you folk let Turkey into the European Union?" I was slightly gobsmacked by the gentlemen who became candidate for Vice President. One, there are all the economic factors about freedom and mobility of labour, which need not exercise us this morning, but it did seem to me that he had not understood there needs to be a line which people must cross. They are very close to it, they have got the structure there, but it seems to me that the European Union and the United States have not spelt out to Turkey the extra mile they must go in these areas. Our good friends in Turkey see they have these structures, which to some extent work, and that is why I say there is not a term to describe it. You have got the western European democracies and we know we have also got some very rotten places in the world, but Turkey is rather unusual in the sense that it is deficient in a number of areas but not gravely deficient. That is what I feel and the impression I have got is that either out of wilful ignorance or failure to recognise, we in the European Union fail to spell out the line. We talk about the "Copenhagen criteria" but it does seem to me we almost ought to say you must allow people to advocate nationality and succession, even if it is an irritant. You must have proper judicial review and rights equivalent to habeas corpus and so on and so forth.


  168. How do you respond to Mr Mackinlay?
  (Dr Wedel) The short-term priorities in the accession partnership are quite clear. Of course this has to be further explained. For example, it says that there must be safeguards for freedom of expression. What is freedom of expression? The progress report spells that out more clearly and there is a reference to the European Convention which has been interpreted authoritatively by the European Court of Human Rights so there is official interpretation to which the EU can refer and that, I agree, should be done very clearly. It should be spelt out very clearly what we mean by freedom of expression and what should be possible within freedom of expression, yes.

Mr Hamilton

  169. Dr Wedel, you mentioned earlier the treatment of Christian minorities in Turkey. Is there a Jewish minority in Turkey?
  (Dr Wedel) Yes a very small one but I am not in a position to give you any details about the situation of the Jewish community nor of the Christian minority because, as far as I know, there are no concerns within our mandate, which is quite limited. There has always been a Jewish minority.

  170. If there are no concerns for you that is at least encouraging?
  (Dr Wedel) Not in our mandate.


  171. So far as the Christian minorities are concerned we have heard various cases, presumably which are well-known to you, some of which include the treatment towards the Armenians, for example. I understand that in 1936 a decree was issued that required Armenians to register all their religious foundation property. In 1974 the Council of State ruled that all Armenian foundations were considered foreign and could not acquire property in Turkey, and the Turkish courts have since ruled that Armenian property should be returned to their original owners. Is this something of concern to you?
  (Dr Wedel) That is not an area we would actively work on so therefore I am not in a position to give you any more information on this issue. Amnesty focuses on freedom of expression, things like torture, the death penalty, extra judicial execution and disappearances.

  172. Surely freedom to practise one's religion would be relevant to your concerns?
  (Dr Wedel) We only become active when a person is actually taken into custody or prison for expressing their view.

  173. There is a case which has been brought to our attention of Kemal Timur who has been faced with persecution, it is alleged, for allegedly calling the Prophet Mohammed a sorcerer in May 2000 and he was arrested while distributing Christian literature in front of a high school. Is that an area of concern or would you wait until the process had been completed?
  (Dr Wedel) There are so many on-going trials which are related to freedom of expression and in this sense also freedom of religion that normally we would look at them towards the end of the trial if there is a real risk that the person will be remanded to prison.

  Andrew Mackinlay: That is why, Chairman, we have to be careful in the United Kingdom when it comes to incitement to religious hatred. We should see the beam in our own eye. Even people disappearing has been known in the United Kingdom.


  174. How do you answer a Turk who may say you are taking an absolutist view, say, on freedom of expression and fail to put it in the context of a bitter war waged by a group which this country recognises as terrorists?
  (Dr Wedel) We act on the basis of international human rights' standards and even if there is an armed conflict, it should be possible for people to speak out, to give their views, unless they advocate violence. This is also a position which has been expressed by the European Court of Human Rights and Amnesty does not really go beyond that.

  Chairman: That is very helpful, thank you both very much.

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