September 17, 2015

EU Minister Konca: It’s not possible to explain arrest of journalist Karaca to EU

Turkey's new Minister for European Union Affairs Ali Haydar Konca has said a range of undemocratic bills that have rolled back the rule of law, and the extended pretrial detention of journalist and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group CEO Hidayet Karaca make it hard for Turkey to make a case to Europe.

In an interview with Today's Zaman, Konca, a deputy of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said the unlawful actions of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) damage Turkey's EU accession hopes.

Konca was appointed to his position after the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) refused to participate in Acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's cabinet before a snap election, scheduled for Nov. 1.

Karaca was detained in government-led police raids on independent media outlets on Dec. 14 along with 31 others, including the Zaman daily's editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, as part of a government crackdown on dissenting media. Dumanlı was released on Dec. 19, while Karaca, who still has yet to be indicted, and three others remain in jail.

"One cannot explain the uniform structure of the judiciary"

Pointing out that a ban on prep schools is still in effect despite being annulled by the Constitutional Court, Konca stated: “The Constitutional Court annulled the prep-school ban, but we're still stuck in this mess" Konca pointed out that the subservience of the of the judiciary to the ruling party or the formation of the penal courts cannot be explained to anyone in Europe.

In July, the Constitutional Court annulled a bill passed into law in March 2014 that ordered the closure of the schools, primarily attended by students who require supplementary tutoring ahead of university entrance exams. According to the law, prep schools were prohibited from operating after Sept. 1, 2015 and were ordered to convert to standard high schools if they wished to remain open.

In August, a circular sent to every governor's office by the Ministry of Education included a by-law that demanded the closure of all operating university preparation schools, known as “dershanes.” The circular informed the governors that the ministry will take legal action against dershanes that continue to operate.

The judges of the penal courts of peace, who have been granted extraordinary powers, including the authority to issue warrants, detentions and seizures of property on their own accord, have been harshly criticized since the position's inception in July 2014.

The criticism stems from the courts' closed circuit system of appeals. Usually, when an appeal is made regarding a verdict of a Criminal Court of First Instance, the appeal comes before a judge from the High Criminal Court. However, an appeal made regarding a decision of a judge in a penal court of peace can only be made to a judge also serving in a penal court of peace, and the appeal is often made to the same judge who issued the original ruling.

The penal courts of peace were designed by the government to pursue critics and opponents by orchestrating what appear to be show trials in politically motivated cases.

"If the chapters were to open, how would they be completed?"

Konca stated that Turkey was awaiting the opening of the 23rd and 24th chapters of the EU acquis communautaire pertaining to the judiciary, fundamental rights, freedom and security. He said: “If the chapters were to open, how would they be completed! Turkey must allow for democracy, and human rights and freedoms to become the norms of life, even if we do not enter the EU.”

Ankara began negotiations to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying. But a series of political obstacles, notably over the divided island of Cyprus, and resistance to Turkish membership from Germany and France have hindered progress.

Konca added that he expected to make an official visit to Brussels, and that it would be a disgrace if his trip were hindered by the AK Party.

"Wrongdoings cannot be explained by ‘foreign powers' rhetoric"

Underlining that the wrongdoings in Turkey cannot be explained by rhetoric claiming “foreign powers” are out to ruin the country, and that this kind of discourse negatively affects the accession process, Konca asked, “Who can explain the MİT [National Intelligence Organization] law, the prep school ban, or the arrest of Mr. Hidayet [Karaca] in Europe?”

Former President Abdullah Gül's claims of respect for the rule of law, and personal rights and freedoms took a heavy blow in April 2014, when he approved a much-contested law that allows MİT to conduct operations against possible overseas threats designated by the Cabinet. MİT is not held accountable for such operations; all responsibility lies with the civilian government. Also, MİT agents operating under an assumed identity are not held accountable for their activities and MİT agents who infiltrate terrorist organizations have no criminal liability for crimes committed while undercover.

Konca claims it is impossible to defend the domestic security bill abroad

Konca also blasted the domestic security bill, which triggered fist fights in Parliament and sparked popular debate. The AK Party went to extreme lengths to pass 69 of the 132 articles of the bill, which it has renamed the "Legal Package to Protect Freedoms," in Parliament in April.

Konca once again asked in a frustrated manner, “Who can defend the domestic security package in Europe?” The domestic security package, which has been said to resemble practices used during periods of military rule, mandates that damage to public property be paid for by the perpetrator, that anyone chanting the slogans of outlawed organizations during protests or bearing banners or emblems of outlawed groups be charged with prison sentences ranging from six months to three years.

The bill was met by strong disapproval from both the CHP and the HDP, as well as by civil society groups. The bill was also criticized by Kati Piri, the Turkey rapporteur for the European Parliament (EP), who emphasized that the bill is at odds with the prerequisites of a democratic state, arguing that its amendments violate the right to demonstrate, the freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

"Raid of Nokta a violation of press freedom"

Stating that Europe has a history that evolved through bloody religious wars, Italian fascism, German Nazism and the process of becoming nation states, Konca said that it is expected that the EU would criticize certain aspects of Turkey.

“The fact that we [Turkish citizens] point out wrongdoings is not complaining about our country. The process of finding tangible truths is of high importance for Turkey's process of democratization,” he added.

Regarding recent government-led police raids on dissenting media outlets, Konca asked: “Did the Nokta magazine not get raided because of a cover photo? Does the banning of periodicals have anything to do with press freedom?”

The Nokta newsweekly magazine was raided on Monday, on allegations of "propagating terror" and "insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” in its latest edition, the cover of which depicted a smiling Erdoğan taking a selfie with the flag-draped coffin of a soldier in the background. Nokta Managing Editor Murat Çapan was detained in the raid by the İstanbul Police Department's counterterrorism unit and referred to the court for arrest. He was later released.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 September 2015, Wednesday