COVID19Human RightsJournalists in Prison

Türmen: “Journalists’ exclusion from the amnesty bill doesn’t comply with criminal justice”

ELİF AKGÜL

Turkish Parliament’s Justice Commission has passed the 70-article bill that proposes changes to the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures last week. The bill will soon be reviewed and voted by the General Assembly. 

While the bill foresees the release of many imprisoned individuals, journalists who stand trial or are convicted per Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law are not included in this amnesty proposal. While the bill proposes inmates “who have chronic diseases and those who are above the age of 65” to be released, journalists won’t be able to benefit from this practice because they are charged with terror-related crimes. There are many journalists who are under high risk for COVID-19, such as  Ziya Ataman who has chronic intestinal disease and Ahmet Altan who is 70 years old.

MLSA has filed an individual application to the Constitutional Court on behalf of Ziya Ataman, requesting the chronically-ill journalists’ release. However, Constitutional Court has suspended its meetings and will not be reviewing individual applications until April 30 due to measures taken against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“State is obliged to protect the citizens’ living spaces”

“The state is obliged to protect the living spaces of citizens under its jurisdiction,” says Turkey’s former European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judge Rıza Türmen. Türmen adds that “the state has the biggest responsibility” when it comes to prison facilities. According to Türmen, the state’s priority should be to release all inmates who are at high risk for COVID-19, not to amend the law on execution of sentences:

“The Minister of Health stated that 85% of those who died from COVID-19 are above the age of 60 with co-morbidities such as heart disease. This means that the state needs to release inmates who are above the age of 60 and chronically ill as soon as possible. The state’s priority should have been to release inmates who are at high risk in order to secure prisons from a dangerous outbreak, not to amend an existing law.” 

“This bill will inflict a wound on public consciousness”

“It is impossible to comply the exclusion of politicians, students, journalists, and human rights defenders from this amnesty bill with criminal justice,” says Türmen and draws attention to the primary issue: “Articles that these individuals are sentenced for are already problematic and should not exist in a state of law because they are incredibly unclear and unpredictable.”

Türmen adds:  “The Venice Commission also sees it necessary to have articles such as the following amended: inciting the public to hatred, insulting the President, denigrating the Turkish nation, establishing an armed organization, aiding and abetting a terrorist organization without being a member, and making terrorist propaganda. Furthermore, there is a political will that uses these articles to silence dissident voices and a judiciary that is instrumentalized by this political will. Reading ECtHR judgements is enough to see how detentions per these articles are unlawful. It is unacceptable that while this bill proposes those who have actually committed offenses to be released, it tells us that critics of the government who were convicted for expressing their opinion or informing the public will remain behind bars. This bill will inflict a big wound on public consciousness.”

“Constitutional Court can rule for annulment since the bill violates the principle of equality under the law”

Türmen reminds that an annulment suit can be filed with the Constitutional Court based on the fact that the proposed bill violates the equality principle secured by the Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution, while adding that opposition parties are the ones to take this action. Türmen underlines that the primary issue with such a request for annulment would be making a clear argument to distinguish between political prisoners and others who would be excluded by the bill such as those convicted for sexual offenses and drug trafficking. 

“Those who are excluded from the bill can file individual applications with the Constitutional Court. If they cannot find remedy there, they can apply to the European Court of Human Rights as well,” says Türmen. Turkey’s former ECtHR judge adds that the complaint on discrimination cannot be the sole argument in an individual application and that it must be supported by other complaints.