ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–Under fire for its controversial defense in a high-profile freedom of speech case at the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey will reportedly drop efforts to defend itself and seek friendly settlements instead.
“When there is a contradiction with universal or [European court] principles, [Turkey] does not necessarily give a defense. We are working on this issue to clarify what kind of precautions we can take in order to deal with these cases without going through the judicial process,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday in a televised interview with NTV.
Davutoglu was careful not to confirm or deny a claim made by Radikal daily columnist Murat Yetkin that the Interior, Foreign and Justice ministries had agreed that Turkey would no longer defend itself in freedom of speech cases. But the foreign minister’s remarks indicated that the country might be considering a change in tactics after its much-criticized European court defense drawing parallels between Neo-Nazism and the perspectives of murdered journalist Hrant Dink.
When asked about Yetkin’s claim, Davutoglu told NTV that he has been personally examining Turkey’s defenses in critical cases since September 2009 and that the country has asked for a friendly settlement in many of them on his recommendation.
Davutoglu also said he has asked the country’s permanent representative to the European court to supply a classification of the cases opened against Turkey.
Turkey has some 13,000 cases pending in the European court.
In his column Tuesday, Yetkin wrote that the three ministries decided at a meeting on August 25 that Turkey would give executive power to a Friendly Settlement Commission to take action in cases of freedom of speech. This would mean that Turkey would automatically look for an amicable settlement rather than mounting a defense in such cases.
The Turkey vs. Dink case at the European court is the merger of two civil cases; one was filed with the European court as a challenge to the journalist being charged with “insulting Turkishness” under the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, while the second alleges Turkey failed to adequately protect the life of Dink, who received repeated death threats before his assassination on January 19, 2007.
The Dink case made headlines earlier this month when Turkey cited in its defense a case against a leader of a Nazi organization in Europe as an example supporting its prosecution of Dink. In an early reaction, Davutoglu expressed regret and said, “As an intellectual and a minister, I could not digest this.”
Following this defense, Turkey asked for a friendly settlement, but the Dink family refused the request.
“There are two issues in the Dink case; one is about protecting the right to life and the other is [about] freedom of expression,” Davutoglu said, adding that by offering the friendly settlement, Turkey has accepted that it has “some deficiencies on these two issues and agrees to do what is necessary.”
Hasip Kaplan, a Sirnak deputy from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) told Hurriyet that the government should remove Article 301 altogether – along with articles 215, 216 and 220 of the Law to Fight against Terror – in order to make progress in the pending cases.
“It is in the government’s hands to make amendments to these articles, which will be the certain solution,” Kaplan said.
Kamil Tekinsurek, a lawyer following cases on behalf of complainants in the European court, said he does not believe the decision – if it indeed has been made – was made sincerely and said it was only done for the Dink case.
“Even if Turkey was to look for a friendly settlement in these cases, a majority of the complainants would not accept because they do not apply to [the European court] only for compensation but primarily to prove that Turkey is guilty,” he said.
Though he said Turkey’s record would be seen as cleaner due to the decision – since under a friendly settlement, it would not technically be found guilty – Tekinsurek said it would be “an obstacle before judicial reforms in Turkey.”
Lawyer Ergin Cinmen meanwhile said he appreciated the decision because Turkey must become a more liberal state, where freedom of speech is protected. However, Cinmen added that asking for friendly settlements is not enough. He said courts in Turkey, including the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals, should give priority to the principles of the European court when they contradict domestic law.