Thursday, February 18, 2010

Turkish jail sentence for Kurdish journalist branded 'harsh' by Council of Europe

The Council of Europe and
Turkey flag. FILE PHOTO
The editor, Ozan Kilinc, was jailed for publishing material sympathetic to the outlawed PKK.
The new secretary general of the Council of Europe says the recent 21-year prison sentence imposed on a Kurdish journalist Ozan Kilinc by a Turkish court highlights how far the country still has to go in meeting concerns about its human rights record.

Speaking in Brussels, Thorbjorn Jagland said, "Things are changing, and in recent years the Turkish authorities have done a great deal to bring the laws and practice in line with European standards.
"But there is still a long way to go to complete this process - and the extremely harsh prison sentence for a Kurdish journalist by a Turkish court last week is a clear reminder of this fact."

The editor, Ozan Kilinc, was jailed for publishing material sympathetic to the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). Comments or acts judged supportive of the party are a serious crime in Turkey whose record on media freedom is one of the main obstacles to its bid to become an EU member.

Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway, was addressing a debate, "Strengthening human rights across Europe," organised by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank.

He said, "Those who object to Turkey's full place in Europe tend to ignore the fact that Turkey has been a part of political Europe for years - at least since 1949 when it joined the Council of Europe and 1950 when it signed up to the European convention on human rights.

"Of course, seniority is no guarantee for performance, and a quick look at the statistics of the European Court of Human Rights will show that Turkey tops the list of countries found in breach of the convention."

He said the EU's accession to the convention, as foreseen under the Lisbon treaty, offered a "window of opportunity for historic change."

Jagland said it will create a "safe haven for human rights" across Europe and beyond.

"I could not think of an objective which would be more in the EU's interest, so this is an opportunity which we really cannot afford to miss."

He said, "It is very important that the driving force behind this process is the Turkish adherence to the convention."

Jagland, who took up office last October, was chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee which awarded the Nobel peace prize to US president Barack Obama.

Jagland said that Turkey's relations with Europe "must not be perceived exclusively in the context of the protracted and often frustrating negotiations with the EU."

"Political and administrative reforms, sometimes controversial, should no longer be seen as concessions to a partner who is not always the quickest to uphold their part of the deal, but as a compliance with a system of values which Turkey itself has helped to create."

He said EU accession to the convention will "undoubtedly" have a positive effect and help to "reinforce the sense of Turkish ownership of the European human rights protection mechanism."

"We have a chance for meaningful and productive dialogue and co-operation on issues related to human rights. This is good for Turkey, it is good for the EU, it is good for their future relations and it is good for Europe as a whole."