18 February 2014 News Roundup

The ‘Democratisation Package’ announced by the PM Erdogan 30 September 2013 passed the parliament’s constitution committee on 11 February 2014.

The new legislation will provide these changes:

  • Local languages and dialects other than Turkish are allowed in local and general elections.
  • Political parties may have maximum of two chairmen.
  • Ex-convicts of some certain crimes, including people imprisoned for terror crimes, may join political parties.
  • Opinions of mayor, political parties, trade bodies and unions for locations and routes of congregations and demonstrations will be required. Outdoor meetings and protests will need to finish by sunset and similar indoor congregations can last until midnight.
  • Speakers and participants in demonstrations may be filmed or recorded only by the police in order to identify suspects and criminal evidence.
  • Only non-state schools may provide education in non-Turkish local languages and dialects.
  • Religious faiths of individuals and individual or congregational acts of worship are protected by the Constitution of Turkey and international conventions ratified by Turkey and any attempt to prevent or interfere in such freedoms will be sentenced to one to three years in prison.
  • ‘Hate crimes’ as well as discrimination are included in the legislation and committing hate crimes such as discrimination for language, nation, race, gender, disability, political and philosophical beliefs, religion or religious sects will be sentenced to one to three years.
  • Old names of villages can now be reinstated.

Over the last week, many protests were held throughout Turkey.

Demonstrations against the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup trials and special authorised courts in Ankara were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons by the police.

Environmental activists protested against opening of a dam and hydroelectric power plant (HES) in Istanbul. Police used tear gas as protestors attempted to enter the building where the congress was held.

Students protested outside an AKP building in Zonguldak. They were detained by the police following a clash between AKP members and the students who wanted to put a photo of one of the murdered Gezi protestors, Ali Ismail Korkmaz, on one of the windows of the party building.

Demonstrations were held in several cities in South-eastern region for the release of PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan on the anniversary of his capture by the Turkish forces. Riot police responded with tear gas and water cannons. A similar demonstration was held in Strasbourg on the 15th February.

Journalists protested in Istanbul against censorship and the government’s attempts to control over media. According to Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), 56 journalists were fired following the Gezi protests and 40 still remain behind bars. Turkey remains one of the worst countries for press freedom.

On a different note… 

  • Tens of thousands of workers protested in Ankara against sub-contracts, lack of assembly and irregular work. Threatening the government of voting against it in the March 30 local elections, the union Turk-Is highlighted the restrictions on freedom (of the media and the internet) by the government. They demanded that sub-contractors be granted staff status and a decrease in privatization schemes.
  • Canada based organization International Freedom of Expression (IFEX) has started an international campaign to persuade President Abdullah Gul to veto the law regarding the changes to Internet freedoms. The campaign is aiming to use twitter to remind the public and the president himself of his previous tweets in 2011. He had tweeted saying; “my opinion is that there shall be no infringement on freedoms, everyone should be able to roam the internet freely” and “in the face of such powerful information technologies, no regime closed off to such freedoms has a chance to survive”. (translation by CEFTUS Insights)
  • A summary of proceedings about Leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, was sent to the parliament for inciting people to commit crime. Bahceli, in a meeting, responded to supporters’ calls of ‘we can die or hit on your wish’ by saying “do not worry; there will be a time for that too”.
  • A music group, Grup Yorum, began a month-long hunger strike on 14 February. The group announced that the strike is to protest against the government’s ‘assault on the arts’ and that they demand lifting of travel ban imposed on some members.
  • Locals in Bitlis complaining that politicians only come to the city before elections hung a placard declaring that they ban any politicians to enter a neighbourhood due to lack of infrastructure.

Law to reshape the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) was passed in the parliament despite strong criticism from internal and external bodies.

The law will allow the government to have stricter control over judiciary. See more here for background to the bill.

Six suspects of the 17 December corruption probe including the former general manager state-run Halkbank were released on 14 February 2014.

Five suspects including the sons of former Interior and Economy Ministers are still in custody.

Police chiefs of 27 provinces include Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul and three deputy heads of the national police department were reassigned as part of an operation in the wake of 17 December graft probe.

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MPs following to recent meetings with jailed PKK leader Ocalan presented the parliament a proposal called ‘Societal Peace and Negotiations Law’ in order to ensure a legal ground for the peace process.

The proposal aims to implement a legal framework for the negotiations, determine sides of the negotiations, and form an observatory body to monitor the peace process. Additionally, the proposal outlines formation and duties of an anti-discrimination and equality commission in the parliament.

Independent Kurdish deputy Leyla Zana and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Sırri Süreyya Önder announced that Ocalan and Iraqi Kurdish President Barzani agree with each other on issues regarding the region and the rights of Kurds as emerged from letters from both sides.

The government released a memo in Turkish and English in defence of the Internet bill.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, the memo suggests that the bill does not constitute of censorship. For details of the memo please see here. Turkish Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan, speaking against criticisms, suggested that launching of the fifth satellite shows how much the Turkish government value internet and internet speed.

Important developments occurred regarding the Gezi protests.

Ministry of Health sues Ankara Doctor’s Union for setting infirmaries without the Ministry’s authority and for not providing names of individuals who treated patients and names of patients who received treatment in these infirmaries.

It has been argued that PM Erdogan’s claims about a certain event during Gezi protests were incorrect. During Gezi protests, it was claimed by the PM Erdogan that a headscarf-wearing women, who is the daughter-in-law of an AKP mayor, was violently harassed by a group of young men who were claimed to be some Gezi protestors. A footage aired on TV channel Kanal D showed that there was no physical damage. PM Erdogan, who had previously promised to release police footage of the attack but has so far not done so, and Interior Minister Efkan Ala dismissed the footage and stated that medical forensic report of the attack proves that the attack did take place.

The indictment against members of a group believed to be behind the Gezi Protests has been declined by a court on lack of notifying the crime that the protestors were charged with.

Turkey’s foreign relations continued to be tense with regards to Cyrpus, Israel and the Afghanistan – Pakistan duo.

Negotiations regarding the situation of Cyprus have begun. Cross visits are planned by both the Greek and Turkish sides; the Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot negotiators are to visit the other party simultaneously. Leaders of both the Greek and Turkish sides in Cyprus had met before, announcing a joint communiqué regarding the instigation of further unification talks.

The head of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) that organized the flotilla to Gaza declared that they would not back down regarding the legal procedures unless the Israeli government’s apology is accepted by the families of the victims.

Turkey hosted the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in a meeting themed “Sustainable Peace in the heart of Asia”. While Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban were important for the Afghanis, the business leaders and ministerial officials met in separate sessions.

Amidst Standards &Poor’s (S&P) warning to the banking sector, minister of Economy Babacan stressed the importance of foreign capital for Turkey’s economy.

Not a single day passes without a warning from credit rating agencies to Turkey’s economic policy makers. S&P warned Turkish banking sector against the risks rising from domestic politics, the slowdown in FED’s accommodative monetary policy and the slowdown in the growth of Turkish economy. In their statement, S&P noted that Turkish financial institutions are more fragile than ever to economic slowdown and depreciation in the currency tests the flexibility in borrowing in foreign exchange dominated currency of Turkish banks. Mood’s also emphasized slowdown in the growth of economic activity due to the interest rate hikes by the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey and warned that defaults in mortgages and loans to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) might increase.

On the other hand, Economy Minister, Ali Babacan, defended the transparency in the banking sector and stressed the need for transparency for the whole economy in order to attract more foreign capital. Despite the downward corrections in the expectations for the GDP growth in Turkey by the market, Babacan argued against for a revision on the medium term programme as it is too early to predict the trends statistically. What was important on Babacan’s speech was the strict statement for the dependency on foreign capital of Turkey’s economy. Babacan said that “Stop the inflow of capital to Turkey, the growth will go down to negatives. Foreign Direct investment is a must for Turkish economy”. He also criticised the outlook downgrade decision of S&P for being non-realistic. According to Babacan, S&P warns against the risks from current account deficit while the rating agency expects the deficit will decrease to 2 percent of GDP. Further S&P expect the economy will grow 2 percent even though the agency warns against sudden stop of economic activity.

Despite confusing messages on the future of Turkish economy, Turkish economy seems to operate neither good nor bad, but flat. Seasonally adjusted unemployment slightly increased by 0.5 percent to 9.9 percent in November. The Central government’s budget had a surplus of 1.907 million TRY in January.  New built properties become percent expensive. The most important of all is that Turkey was not put in the black list of FATF but remained in the grey list as a potential risky country in favour of terrorist financing.

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

  • A separate parking space has been allocated to women in a newly built shopping mall in Antalya. The controversial parking area provides parking spaces that are 1 metre wider than the usual space designated per car. The car park is painted pink and has figures of women shopping on the walls. While the mall argues that such a system also exists in Europe, reactions have focused on the discriminatory nature of the arrangement, drawing attention to the need to educate men about driving safely.
  • The neighbourhood came to the rescue of a woman who was again the victim of her husband’s violence. A woman was first beaten then stabbed by her husband, against whom she had filed for divorce. However, neighbours who saw the incident started throwing flowerpots at the man, forcing him to run away from the scene. As the woman is recovering in hospital, the police are searching for the husband.
  • For the first time in Istanbul, a protest against violence against women and sexism as part of the international ‘1 billion rising’ movement took place.
  • Malatya City Council General Secretary launched a campaign named ‘Our Family is Our Treasure’ on 12 February 2014. As part of the campaign, posters saying ‘Don’t be a slave to women, but be head of your family’ were hung in many locations of the city. According to the General Secretary, the campaign is to create awareness of the increases in the number of divorces, the use of drugs and the children’s use of Internet in recent years. It is understood that women have unjustly been given the responsibility of causing such sociological issues whilst men are asked to realise the supposed danger of women’s presence in family in order to overcome above-mentioned issues.