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Amnesty Urges Movement on Democratic Reform Plans in Turkey - 2004-02-12

The human rights group, Amnesty International, is calling for Turkey to fully implement democratic reforms approved by the Turkish parliament. Amnesty leader Irene Khan says Turkey needs strong institutional reform, if it is to improve its human rights situation.

Speaking after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said a number of crucial developments had helped accelerate the reform process in Turkey. She said her meeting with Mr. Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party, or AKP, heads the government, was an indication of the positive changes taking place.

"The end of conflict in [predominantly Kurdish] southeastern Turkey, the clear majority of the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party] government in the last election and the desire of Turkey to enter the European Union have created a unique momentum for change," she said. "Internal will to change, as well as external pressure for change has opened a new environment in which human rights are finally on the political agenda."

Turkey is hoping to open membership negotiations with the European Union by 2005. EU governments have consistently cited Turkey's poor human rights record as the leading obstacle to its joining the group.

In a bid to overcome such criticism, Turkey's 14-month-old government has passed several democratic reforms. They include easing bans on teaching and broadcasting in the Kurdish language, as well as stiffening penalties for torture.

Ms. Khan said such reforms had yet to be fully implemented. "The government has announced zero-tolerance for torture," he said. "But reports of torture, ill-treatment and police brutality still continue. Despite hundreds of complaints, prosecutions against state officials remain rare. New laws to reduce impunity have yet to bite. Indicted officials often remain on active duty. Yet, human rights defenders are being regularly harassed with judicial proceedings."

During her meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan, the Amnesty secretary general urged the establishment of independent monitoring of human rights. She also urged repeal for laws that criminalize non-violent expression of opinion deemed to insult state institutions and government officials.

Ms. Khan also appealed to the prime minister to release prisoners convicted under those laws, including four former Kurdish members of parliament, who have been serving 15-year jail sentences for their alleged links with a Kurdish rebel group. They include Leyla Zana, whose chief offense was to have addressed Parliament's inaugural session more than a decade ago in the Kurdish language.