Turkey’s judicial reform could lead to dismissal of thousands of ‘terror’ cases – T24

The Turkish government’s Judicial Reform Strategy, which is expected to introduce amendments to the country’s current anti-terror law (TMK), is to be announced to the public before June 4, T24 news portal reported on Wednesday.

According to the report by Gokcer Tahincioglu from T24, the Turkish Ministry of Justice is to bring a new judicial reform bill to the Turkish parliament before the Eid al-Fitr, which will be celebrated by Muslims in Turkey for three days starting on June 4.

The Judicial Reform Strategy for the 2019-2023 period, which might result in thousands of people’s terrorist charges being dropped due to amendments to the TMK, is also expected to be critical of Turkey’s European Union membership process.

The Ministry of Justice, which was previously expected to announce the judicial reform package in January, continued to work on it following meetings with representatives from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Council of Europe and some non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

T24 reported that the Ministry of Justice is currently working on narrowing its legal definition of terrorism, one of the EU criteria for Turkey, to get the visa waiver so that it will be in line with European standards.

The ministry is also expected to change the definition of “terrorist propaganda”, Article 7/2 of the anti-terrorism law, in line with the warning of the Venice Commission in 2017.

The commission said that the law, which includes some “dangerously vague” verbal act offenses, should not place radical dissidents of the regime on the same footing with members of terrorist groups.

Although the Justice Ministry is known to work on these changes, it is still not clear that the results of this work will actually be reflected in the anti-terror law as amendments, the report says.

So far, the Turkish government has rejected making changes to its anti-terror law, arguing that it is under attack by a number of terrorist organizations that include the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State (ISIS).

Anonymous sources who spoke to T24 claim that there might be limited changes to the anti-terror law so as to widen the scope of probation and reduce the number of people in prisons.

The same sources also claim that numerous convicts, who are currently in jail, might benefit from the expanded scope of probation, which could serve as an indirect pardon granted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Article 7/2 of the anti-terrorism law contains a number of acts considered within the scope of the right to freedom of expression by the ECHR. Among those acts are: chanting slogans, signing petitions, printing banners, and posters, as well as reporting news critical of the government.

The ministry is expected to make the controversial anti-terror article clearer by omitting the vague offenses as a response to the criticisms of several bodies, according to the claims reported by T24.

It has also been said that the move might have cases of thousands of journalists, writers, students and NGO members, including Academics for Peace and former columnists and administrators of the Cumhuriyet daily, dismissed.

The Academics for Peace consist of 1,128 staff from 90 Turkish universities, most of whom currently face charges of “promoting a terrorist organization”, due to signing a petition in April 2016.

The declaration, titled, ‘We won’t be a party to this crime’, refers to the heavy clashes between Turkish security forces and the PKK militants and demands of peace in southeastern Turkey.

In 2018, 14 staff members of Cumhuriyet newspaper were imprisoned on charges of “supporting terrorist groups” following news reports critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP.

It is also claimed that the case of Ayse Celik, a Turkish teacher who was sent to prison charges of “terror propaganda,” might serve as a reference point for possible amendments in the law.

Celik was released three weeks after being sent to prison, after the Constitutional Court’s ruling that her right to freedom of expression was violated.

The teacher faced “terror propaganda” charges after speaking out on violence against children during clashes between security forces and the PKK members in southeastern Diyarbakir on the live, popular phone-in Beyaz Show in 2016.

The package, which is claimed to be composed of nearly 70 articles, will reportedly include specific regulations for children under 15 years of age and for convicts who suffer from serious illnesses.

An “Action Plan for Human Rights” on prevention of violations of the European Convention Human Rights in parallel with the Judicial Reform Strategy, is also expected to be announced by the ministry, the sources say.

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