Is Turkey democratizing or the exact opposite?
Turkey is still in the limelight as an Islamic country which is at the same time a “democratic, secular state of law.” The strategic position of Turkey, which is a bridge between not only the East and the West but also the Islamic world and Christian and Jewish communities, is indeed very special. Turkey, which has acted as an important bridge enabling the integration of the West and the East throughout the Middle East, the Caucasus, Asia and Europe, continues on its path as an irreplaceable partner of the Islamic countries as well as the West.
However, it is necessary to clarify an important aspect here: Turkey demands an advanced level of democracy not only because the West wants it, but because the Turkish people are worthy of it.
Therefore, as a member of NATO and an applicant to the EU, the steps Turkey has taken in the way to democracy are being carefully monitored by everyone.
As Turkey entered a new electoral period, the country witnesses intense political disputes. During this period, the parliament accepted two important legislative proposals, and these were approved by the President and entered into force. These are the new regulations about the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the new internet law about the Telecommunications Communication Presidency.
Is the HSYK regulation compatible with the EU?
First, it is important to specify that all legislation has to be evaluated within the context of its compatibility with the Copenhagen Criteria and the EU Harmonization Process. Whenever new articles are discussed, it is also crucial to receive opinion from the related institutions of the EU and shape those regulations according to these ideas. When we think that Turkey’s compatibility with the European Union’s “justice” acquis is vital, it also has great importance to consult first with EU specialists before making legal proposals and decisions that concern the justice system.
However, the President of the Court of Cassation, Ali Alkan, stated that in HSYK case the principles accepted by the EU, the European Judges Union and the Venice Commission must be taken into consideration. Turkish President Abdullah Gül also made a statement confirming this. All these statements indicate Ankara’s sensitivity on the subject.[i]
On the other hand, the fact that Turkey’s Minister responsible for the EU, Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu, explained in Brussels that the change in Supreme Board regulations are in line with the EU legislation is another indication of this sensitivity.[ii]
We see that a common model of the Supreme Board has not been adopted by member countries of the European Union as well. For example:
Holland: That nation’s Board is composed of five members. All members of the Supreme Board are assigned by the King at the proposal of the Minister of Justice.
Sweden: The Board is composed of 11 members and all of the members are assigned by the government.
Denmark: Including the judges, all member of the Board are assigned by the government.
France: The Supreme Board is composed of 18 members. The Presidency of the Board is run by the President and the Minister of the Justice is the Vice President of the Board. Four of the Board members are assigned by the President, the Parliamentary Speaker and President of the Senate.
Italy: The Board is composed 27 members. The President is the President of the Board. Eight members of the Board are elected by the parliament.
Portugal: It is composed of 17 members. Two of the members are elected by the State President and seven members are elected by the parliament.
Poland: It has 25 members. The Minister of Justice is accepted as a member of the board. One member is elected by the President and six members are elected by the Parliament and the Senate.
Spain: It is composed of 21 members. The president of the Court of Cassation is the Board President. Twelve members are elected from the justice system and eight are assigned by the Parliament.[iii]
There are no legal structures similar to the Supreme Board in 10 countries such as Germany, England, Austria and the Czech Republic. In these countries, generally consulting assignments and supervisory committees carry out personnel affairs related to judicial members. In eight countries, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway there is a court organization (administration) – like structure.[iv]
Within the scope of these implementations, if there are still questions about the change made in Turkey, these can be discussed and re-arranged by mutual meetings between the parties. This is what is right.
Is the new legislation bringing censorship?
Another piece of legislation, closely monitored by the EU, was the proposal that regulates Internet use.
The government side emphasizes that their aim is “to protect civil rights without any form of censorship and to guarantee the privacy of individuals.”[v]
The Minister of Transportation, Navigation and Communication, Lütfi Elvan, who is responsible for the Internet and general telecommunications in the Republic of Turkey, also said in his statement, “In any case we request a court order. But in situations when a delay could be damaging, TIB carries out the restriction and applies to the court within 24 hours and the court has to reach a verdict in 48 hours. Therefore, whether traffic data or privacy of personal life or civil rights violations, in all these cases, a court order is required. We need to know this. We all know that in many developed countries of the world, most of these are restricted without even a court order. But in Turkey there will not be any restrictions without a court order. Let’s be aware of that.”[vi]
URL blocking, which is one of the most essential changes in the new regulation, sets forth blocking access only to the part of the website which contradicts the law, and not to the whole web site. This ends any unbounded, extreme sanctions, and therefore protects personal rights and freedoms, contrary to what has been suggested in some media.
It is a known fact that Internet restriction is constructed according to need in many countries throughout the world. Every country looks for a different solution when it comes to national threat perceptions, such as promotion of terrorism, child abuse, human trafficking and violence.
For example the British government is getting ready to meet with Internet companies to block access to violent media and imagery uploaded from overseas. The coalition government in Britain is also planning to block web sites which contain violent videos that could lead to radicalization. According to the current regulations, the police and the Crown Attorney Generalship can demand the removal of videos uploaded on the Internet. Within this scope, it is reported that more than 21,000 “terrorism related” materials have been removed since February 2010. Now work is being carried out to apply this to not only public institutions but also to personal use.[vii]
It is important to state again that there has been some criticism about the new Internet legislation accepted in Turkey from both domestically and overseas. As in every case, it would be right to discuss any details being objected to with experts and come to a reasonable conclusion. However, without examining the details of the legislation and making comparisons with examples throughout the world, blind and biased criticism would only mean a prevention of steps taken by Turkey in the way of democratization and human rights. What is needed is not baseless and blind opposition but a constructive and solution-oriented one.
[iii] http://www.aksam.com.tr/siyaset/iste-avrupada-hsykya-uye-secimi/haber-275860; other source link http://www.abgm.adalet.gov.tr/e-kutuphane/BAZI%20AVRUPA%20B%C4%B0RL%C4%B0%C4%9E%C4%B0%20%C3%9CLKELER%C4%B0NDE%20YARGININ%20Y%C3%96NET%C4%B0M%C4%B0NDEN%20SORUMLU%20OLAN%20Y%C3%9CKSEK%20KURULLAR.pdf