11 February 2014 News Roundup

The new internet bill has dominated Turkey’s agenda, as well as the trials of the deaths of Gezi protestors. While the reallocation of judges, prosecutors and policemen continued, Turkish economy’s outlook has been termed “negative” by the international credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

The new Internet bill raised concerns.

The proposed amendments to the infamous internet bill were passed by the Turkish Parliament on 4 February. The bill which raised concerns as further violation to freedom of expression in Turkey is now waiting to be signed by President Abdullah Gul to come into force, however, many domestic and international organisations such as the Turkish Journalists’ Association and Freedom House as well as opposition parties have urged Gul to veto the bill. Protests took place in Istanbul, which riot police dispersed with water cannon and tear gas. In the meantime, a reporter of Today’s Zaman, who PM Erdogan had filed a criminal complaint against for his tweets criticizing the government, was deported to his home country Azerbaijan. Despite granting the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) the authority of using private data of internet users up to two years, PM Erdogan defended the bill for protecting privacy of individuals and acknowledged such arrangements had to be made to stop leaked tapes by ‘parallel state’ occupying internet. For more on the bill read here.

Social media was rife with leaked tapes revealing alleged corrupt tender bids between businessmen and government members and PM Erdogan’s and other government officials direct interference in TV news broadcast.

A new democratization package was presented in parliament.

A democratisation package of mostly judiciary reforms was debated in the parliament last week. The package offers some of the following;

  • abolishing Specially Authorised Courts (OYMs)
  • easing controversial Anti-Terror laws
  • reducing 10 years long detention period to 5 years,
  • regulating court-ordered phone tapping which includes informing individual before surveillance and decreasing wiretapping period from 6 months to 3 months
  • stopping administrative courts to revoke execution of re-assignments of civil servants including police officers by the government
  • reforming Turkey’s gendarmerie which will enable it an equal department to the National Police Department under Domestic Security Secretariat.  The department, no more in charge of jails and prisons, will only be responsible for fighting terrorism and security in borders.

Reducing detention period will lead releasing of some who were sentenced in Ergenekon case. However, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç stated ‘selectively releasing’ should be applied.

The re-allocation of policemen and judges continued in full speed.

The saga of relegating police officers following 17th December graft probe, mostly chiefs, continued this week.  Reassignments took place in Kutahya, Antalya, Istanbul, Izmir, Malatya and Bolu this week so far.

A second round of reassignments of judges and prosecutors took place on 11 February 2014. 166 members of judiciary including the prosecutor of Ergenekon case and 17 December graft probe, Zekeriya Oz, have been relocated. A new prosecutor, Murat Inam, has been appointed to the cases of Ergenekon and assassination of Hrant Dink. Another prosecutor, Ali Çelik, who has been investigating fraud claims in the Izmir Harbour was dismissed from duty.

On a different note…

  • An editor-in-chief of a mainstream Turkish daily, Fatih Altayli, confessed to be under pressure and receiving instructions in reporting news.
  • An education bill proposed by the government, by September 2015, projects to close down ‘dershane’ (private cram schools) established mostly by the Gulen movement.
  • Environmental approval for the construction of the third airport in Istanbul was suspended by an Istanbul court. However, the Ministry of Transport stated that the suspension will not stop the construction, but delay the process. The third airport project has been highly controversial as it will cause demolishing the greenest part of Istanbul and there was an attempt to investigate the winning companies under graft probe. However, the prosecutor of the investigation was removed immediately.
  • Motions summarising the corruption charges against four ministers were returned to the prosecutors’ offices as some rules in preparation of such document were not observed, said Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek.
  • Fehmi Koru, a correspondent of a mainstream newspaper Milliyet who is believed to have knowledge about the Gulen movement has alleged that the movement may be forming its own party. More details are bound to come up next week regarding the movement’s increasing direct involvement in politics.
  • Cypriot leaders re-launched peace talks on 11 February which received positive responses from Turkey and international parties.

Three trials of murdered Gezi protestors occurred this week

The trial of the policeman who had shot Ethem Sarısülük, a civilian protestor in the Gezi protests, has been given a verdict. The policeman has not been found guilty of murder. His only penalty will be the suspension of promotions in service for the next two years.

The second trial is that of Ali Ismail Korkmaz, a young participator of the Gezi protests who has been beaten to death by a group of policemen. Not only is his death and the existence of the trial itself, but also certain procedural issues have caused controversy within the country. The primary issue has been the moving of the trial from Eskişehir to Kayseri. Legal historians and experts have said that such reallocation of controversial trials tend to end with a verdict against the victim. Moreover, the trial has been extended until May 12. Eight suspects are being tried under this case, five of them under custody.  Around five thousand people demanding a just decision have come to Korkmaz’s trial.

A third trial, death of Ahmet Ayvalitas, has been equally disturbing for the public. Two suspects of the case did not show up at the trial. However, this trial, where death of the victim is categorized as a traffic accident, has not yet been concluded, rather postponed until May 2014. The lawyer of Ayvalitaş’ family announced that the whereabouts of certain evidence critical to the case were unknown. Families that have also lost their children in the Gezi protests and members of the main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) also attended the trial.

Questions of whether the peace process has halted surfaced again this week.

The co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish party Peace and Democracy Party, Selahattin Demirtas has announced that the peace process is on the verge of a break down as they have felt a lack of concrete moves by the government.

S&P changes Turkey’s outlook from “Stable” to “Negative”.

This week started with some warning news from credit rating agency Standards and Poor (S&P). S&P kept the credit rate same as BB+, considered to be speculative grade or sometimes referred as junk bonds, while changed the outlook for Turkish economy from “Stable” to “Negative”. The decision was made reflecting two increasing risks: First, Turkey’s fiscal and monetary policies revealed the potential hard landing upon the tight global liquidity conditions. The expectations of weak growth raise doubts on government’s tax collection and posed severe risks on the fiscal performance and the quality of government assets. Second, S&P noted the erosion in the institutional checks and balances and their effects on the governance standards. The limitations on the independence of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey are given as an example in their statement as a risk against the economy. Accordingly, they lowered their prediction for growth rate of GDP from 3.4 to 2.2 per cent. S&P also warned that one out of three chances they may downgrade the credit note of Turkey due to the external risks as the ratio of foreign net debt to current account will reach 135 per cent in 12 months.

The Minister of Finance, Mehmet Simsek, in his statement four days after S&P’s decision, addressed the concerns over Turkey’s external imbalances. He briefly noted that the current account deficit will contract more than expected due to the moderate growth in domestic demand, rising external demand, depreciation in the currency and decreasing gold imports.  According to Mr. Simsek, the unexpected deterioration in the current account balance was due to temporary events such as recession in Europe and ‘Arab Spring’. He defended the fiscal policy when he claimed that the current budget has available flexibility to absorb shocks. He ended his statement with tone of agreement with S&P emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability of the institutions especially for those related to graft probe.

Lack of improvements in anti-terrorism financing may force foreign investors out of Turkey.

It is unconfirmed that Turkey has long depended on hot money to finance its current account deficit and has suffered from this since the start of talks on tapering in the US. In addition to gradual tightening of global liquidity conditions, it seems Turkey is going to have to face with even more severe problems. The highlight of this week would probably be the possible black listing of Turkey for its failure to comply with terrorism financing standards.  In their meeting between 12th and 14th February, the Financial Action Task Force will evaluate the progress of Turkey in complying with the international standards against financing terrorism.  Last year, Turkey passed the law for anti-money laundering from the parliament only a day before the country was about to lose membership to the FATF.  Yet the law seemed to be insufficient for not to be enlisted among the countries which did not progress as expected. The law includes administering a crime for terrorism financing and the regulations for suspension of assets for the prevention of terrorism financing. Other countries on the list are Algeria, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Tanzania and Yemen. The risk for Turkey is that if FATF decides to add Turkey to the black list, this will mean that many financial institutions and foreign investors will have to withdraw their investments from Turkey by law. Turkey has recently survived a massive capital outflow during a succession of crises, first tapering, and then street protests and finally graft probe. It seems none of them will get even close to the damage and costs that can be incurred by the black listing and this could be irreversible.

As the International Women’s Day approaches, CEFTUS Insights highlights violations of women’s rights

Women in Turkey: dehumanized

A poll highlighted the prevalence of child brides forced to marry as early as 12 years-old in Turkey. As despairing stories emerged from a research conducted by Van Yuzuncu Yil University, rights groups in Turkey urged the government act on the issue.

Bianet reports that 23 women were killed by men in January 2014 for reasons of seeking divorce or dishonouring their families.

Mother of a 17 year old girl who has been sexually assaulted has called on women from across the country to support her in her trial. The young girl had attempted suicide after her assaulter continued to abuse her despite a legal decision banning him from contacting her.

It has also been revealed that only 6% of the candidates for local elections are women. 1% of the candidates of the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party are women, while 17% of the candidates of the Peace and Democracy Party and the Republican People’s Party are women.