AK Party gov’t to announce new package of democratization

Deputy PM Bülent Ar?nç
The government has plans to announce a new democratization package that would further consolidate and expand the sphere of fundamental rights and freedoms.

This will follow an earlier package that was not found satisfactory by most observers.
Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Ar?nç in Parliament on Dec. 21, where he said, “We will recognize all rights of the Kurds,” as well as a statement by the other deputy prime minister, Be?ir Atalay, on Dec. 25 in K?r?kkale in which he said, “We have been working on a democratization package,” have raised expectations for another package. Noting that they have been considering an amendment that would stress that non-violent expression of thought would not be considered a crime or offense, Atalay avoided giving any details on the initiative that also includes changes to the anti-terrorism bill and criminal code.
Recently leaked details in the media, however, suggest that after these changes, those who aid a terrorist organization and hold its emblem would not be prosecuted as members of the organization and the a law that was passed to encourage the return of the militants to their homes would be revised.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, retired military judge Ümit Karda? said the draft was a constructive move but it was in fact a revision of the present security-based concept. Recalling that the provisions and articles that would be subjected to a process of change have been made by the current administration, Karda?, who also teaches at Fatih University, said: “This government has introduced the changes to the anti-terrorism bill. And it was this administration that introduced the provision in the criminal code which criminalized some acts by including them in the definition of membership of a terrorist organization. The government included children within the scope of the anti-terrorism bill, too, and they have rearranged the definition of propaganda. Now they are saying that they are going to make changes to this. Of course, this is a good thing; they are making up for their mistakes. Despite ups and downs, it is a constructive revision. Through some minor changes, the legislation will be made workable and desirable.”

Noting that what really needs to be discussed is the anti-terrorism bill, Karda? argued that this bill was detrimental to the functioning of the criminal code. Stressing that a democratic state should not have such a bill, Karda? further underlined that a lack of any revisions of Article 5 in the second democratization package of the anti-terrorism bill was a significant shortcoming.

Karda?, who is also a security expert, noted that terrorism-related crimes should be redefined and added: “The punishments spelled out in the articles that make reference to the criminal code are already excessive. The punishment is further aggravated because of terrorist motive. Article 1 provides a vague definition of terrorism-related crimes. The provision itself contradicts the law. This is the primary reason for the distorted legal interpretations’ illegal implementation of the anti-terrorism law. The bill is too broad in scope. There is also a tradition — which is a legacy of the State Security Courts [DGMs] — that adheres to a strict interpretation of terrorism-related crimes. Courts hearing terrorism cases tend to continue that attitude. In fact, this bill should be discussed thoroughly.”

Noting that most people do not know the content of the anti-terrorism law and that the politicians make these laws because of extensive pressure from the security bureaucracy, Karda? also stressed that Parliament adopts laws that are inconsistent with the principle of the rule of law because of propaganda that emphasizes national security over freedoms. Karda? said that for this reason, the public does not demand any changes to the existing laws and the demand for democratization remains weak. Karda?, noting that it is unfortunate to witness that politicians view democratization efforts as attempts to stall anti-terrorism efforts or encourage terrorism, said: “The military and the police ask for introduction of illegal bills, arguing that they do not have the authority to deal with the growing threat of terrorism. The government has made all these anti-democratic changes and unconstructive revisions because it listened to these demands and complaints without considering whether these requests were consistent with democratic principles. The government is now easing the stricter parts of the security concept.

Seven articles of second package

Recalling that they have been working on a democratization package, Deputy Prime Minister Atalay made his relevant statement at the K?r?kkale Justice and Development Party (AK Party) local convention on Dec. 24., saying: “We have been working on a new package that would introduce changes to the anti-terrorism bill and the criminal code and expedite the judicial process.” However, Atalay did not give any details because the study was in its preliminary stages.

Stressing that the democratization package would be a huge step forward, Atalay said: “You will see in this package that any expression of thought that does not involve violence will be allowed in Turkey. It is our mission to expand the sphere of freedoms, human rights and democratization. We will remain dedicated to this mission.”

However, the details that Atalay did not provide were leaked to the media. The Sabah daily claims that the second democratization package includes the following seven articles:

  • The article on inciting hatred among the public in the criminal code will be made more lenient.
  • The bill that considers those who aid a terrorist organization as members of this organization will be modified.
  • The provision that introduces 10 years in prison for those who carry an emblem of the terrorist organization will be rewritten.
  • Expression of non-violent thoughts will be permitted and not be criminalized.
  • The bill that encourages the return of militants to their homes will be revised.
  • The judicial and trial processes will be expedited.
  • There will be no prosecution against referring to PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan as Mr. Öcalan.

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