2009 Progress Report: Turkey and the EU

EU-logoThe Commission of the European Communities published on Wednesday annual progress reports on several countries preparing for EU membership.  Below are excerpts from its Turkey report.  Excerpts below specifically mention the Kurds.  For a full understanding and more context, the complete 94-page document can be downloaded at the European Commission Enlargement website: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/press_corner/key-documents/reports_oct_2009_en.htm

Turkey 2009 Progress Report
Commission of the European Communities
Brussels, 14.10.2009

2.2 Human Rights and the Protection of Minorities
Minority rights, cultural rights and protection of minorities

pp 28-29

As regards cultural rights, in January 2009 TRT – the public service broadcaster – started operating channel TRT-6, broadcasting in Kurdish 24 hours a day. In September the Higher Education Board’s (YÖK) endorsed the application from a Turkish University (Artuklu University in Mardin) to establish a “Living Languages Institute” which would provide post graduate education in Kurdish and other languages spoken in the country. The public radio network started to broadcast in Armenian in March 2009.

At the inauguration ceremony of TRT-6, the Prime Minister spoke a few words in Kurdish. During the local election campaign, politicians and political parties used Kurdish in political activities. Although the use of any language other than Turkish in political life is illegal under the Law on Elections and Political Parties, in most such cases no legal action was launched. Most court cases brought against Kurdish politicians for using the Kurdish language, for example for sending invitations or holiday greetings or for municipal activities, ended in acquittals, although the prosecutors have lodged appeals in most of the cases. Governorships in several cities in the Southeast have started offering public services in Kurdish.

However, criminal convictions against DTP members for using the Kurdish language in political life are pending. In July 2009, the Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation, who is in charge of political parties, applied for the removal of the parliamentary immunity of several DTP members. The charges include using the Kurdish language in Parliament.

Following his dismissal in 2007 for providing municipal services in Kurdish, the same mayor was elected in Sur (Central Diyarbakir). However, a criminal case is pending against him based on the same charges.

Restrictions laid down in the Law on the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) apply to private local and regional TV and radio programmes. Educational programmes teaching the Kurdish language are not allowed. Political debates or general entertainment programmes in Kurdish are virtually impossible on private television channels. Several court cases and investigations against GÜN TV – the only private TV channel currently broadcasting in Kurdish – are in progress, in connection with the wording of Kurdish songs, the coverage of the municipal election campaign and other programmes.

Children whose mother tongue is not Turkish cannot learn their mother tongue in the Turkish State school system. As regards university education, the ECtHR ruled against Turkey regarding the application lodged by 18 university students, who were suspended from Afyon Kocatepe University for demanding elective courses in Kurdish. The court ruled that the students’ right to education had been violated.

No measures have been taken to facilitate access to public services for non-speakers of Turkish. While interpretation is possible under the current legislation, it is not consistently applied in practice. Using the Kurdish language in prisons may be problematic, with the situation varying between prison administrations (see also sections on prisons).

Page 30, same section

However, the use made of the anti-terror legislation, which provides a wide definition of terrorism, has resulted in undue restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and freedom of association, in the region. In several instances, the law has been used to punish non-violent opinions, in particular on the Kurdish issue. Since April 2009 the police arrested several hundreds DTP members and executives for alleged membership of the terrorist structure KCK. A similar anti-terror operation was carried out against members of trade unions KESK and Eğitimsen for alleged membership of PKK; 22 of them remain in pre-trial detention. In February, a criminal court in Diyarbakir sentenced a DTP Member of Parliament to 18 months in prison for several speeches. Other DTP Members of Parliament are charged with violating the Anti-terror Law and received a summons to appear before court.

Page 31, same section

No steps have been taken to abolish the system of village guards. There have been reports of human rights violations by village guards during their fight against terrorism. There were reports that new village guards were recruited during the local election campaign.  Overall, despite continuing terrorist violence, the government has opened a wide-ranging public debate -covering cultural, political and economic matters- on the Kurdish issue. It is crucial that this debate be followed by concrete measures. The Law on the de-mining of the Syrian Border is another positive step. However, the broad interpretation of anti-terror legislation has resulted in undue restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights. The village guard system still needs to be phased out.

4.10 Chapter 10: Information Society and Media
page 52

As regards audiovisual policy, the public broadcaster (Turkish Radio Television, TRT) launched a 24-hour Kurdish TV channel (TRT 6) and radio station. TRT also started broadcasting for half an hour twice a day in Armenian (see the section on cultural rights under Section I of this report). The effectiveness of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) was strengthened. All decisions taken by RTÜK are published on its website and a forum for consultation with broadcasters has been established. A roadmap on digital switchover was adopted, in line with the objective set by the European Commission for the Member States. RTÜK allowed prospective internet protocol television operators to launch test transmissions.

However, there has been no development in alignment with the acquis. The Law on the Establishment of Radio and Television Enterprises and their Broadcasts is still posing problems in terms of definitions, jurisdiction, freedom of reception and retransmission, non- discrimination on the grounds of nationality, promotion of European and independent works, major events and restrictions on the share of foreign capital and television enterprises. As regards administration of the broadcasting sector, RTÜK has not reallocated frequencies, which is damaging the broadcasting industry. Moreover, more than a dozen TV channels were shut down for allegedly operating without licences, although their application had been pending for several years. Time and content limitations continue for private channels broadcasting in languages other than Turkish asdoes the translation requirement (see the sections on political criteria and cultural rights). According to the broadcasters the restrictions make broadcasting in Kurdish technically difficult and commercially non-viable.

As a result in 2009, only one TV and two radio stations broadcasted in Kurdish although in total six private broadcasters have licences.

4.23 Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights
page 73

As regards minority rights and cultural rights, Turkey has made some progress, especially in the form of launching the Kurdish-language TV channel TRT 6. However, restrictions remain, particularly on use of languages other than Turkish in private TV and radio broadcasting, in political life, in education and contacts with public services. The legal framework on the use of languages other than Turkish is open to restrictive interpretations and implementation is inconsistent.


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