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U.S. Slams Turkey's Human Rights

The U.S. State Department released its 2008 Human Rights Report on Turkey Thursday. Don't be caught reading it in Turkey, or spreading it around there: you might be charged with "insulting Turkish identity"--an actual, actionable crime in that paradox of a nation.

The report makes for uncomfortable reading:

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remained in some areas. During the year human rights organizations documented a rise in cases of torture, beatings, and abuse by security forces. Security forces committed unlawful killings; the number of arrests and prosecutions in these cases was low compared with the number of incidents, and convictions remained rare. Prison conditions remained poor, with chronic overcrowding and insufficient staff training. Law enforcement officials did not always provide detainees immediate access to attorneys as required by law.

Just as it claims it's a democracy where all people enjoy equal rights, Turkey also claims it has no political prisoners. That, too, is a fabrication by its blind-spotting Ministry of Justice, which has a convenient method of hiding political prisoners. It brands them terrorists. According to the State Department report,

... there were several thousand political prisoners, including leftists, rightists, and Islamists, and contended that the government does not distinguish them as such. The government claimed that alleged political prisoners were in fact charged with being members of, or assisting, terrorist organizations. According to the government, 2,232 convicts and 2,017 pretrial detainees were being held in prison on terrorism charges through September 2007.

As for press freedom and freedom of expression, the latest incident on the floor of the Turkish parliament, where a Kurdish legislator was vilified for speaking Kurdish (the television station carrying his speech cut him off once he stopped speaking Turkish) is revealing.

"The government, particularly the police and judiciary," the report states, "limited freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws including articles of the penal code prohibiting insults to the government, the state, "Turkishness," Ataturk, or the institutions and symbols of the republic. Other laws also restricted speech, such as the Antiterror Law and laws governing the press and elections."

It's not East Germany in the 1970s, to be sure. But that's no consolation to those who'd rather see Turkey, ostensibly the largest Muslim democracy after Pakistan (Pakistan? a democracy?) live up to the name.

Read the full 2008 Report on Human Rights in Turkey.

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