PACE president calls for reforms on free speech, minority rights

Linden pays a farewell visit to Turkey ahead of next week’s presidential elections at PACE when Turkey’s future judge in the European Court of Human Rights will also be elected

ANKARA – TDN Parliament Bureau

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) yesterday urged Turkey to press ahead with reforms and pay more attention to freedom of expression and minority rights – two areas that await further improvement if the country is to proceed on its thorny road toward the European Union.

“I am one of the biggest supporters of Turkey’s EU membership as long as Turkey sticks to its commitments,” Rene van der Linden told reporters following a meeting with Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan. He warned Turkey to pay much more attention to the much-criticized article 301 of the Turkish penal code that makes it a crime to insult Turkish identity.

The contentious article has landed a string of intellectuals in court due to denigrating ”Turkishness” and mostly for comments on the alleged genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

Linden also urged the Turkish government and Parliament to improve minority rights. “I am sure that you, the new Parliament and the new government will pay attention to these issues and contribute to their solution,” he told Toptan.

Farewell visit

In Ankara Linden met with President Abdullah Gül during a farewell visit ahead of the presidential elections at PACE set for Jan. 21, when Turkey’s future judge in the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights will also be elected.

Turkey’s previous list was rejected because of difference in capacity level among the three nominees. The current list includes Professor Ruşen Ergeç, who was previously nominated, Professor Işıl Karakaş and Associate Professor Ali Ulusoy. Ergeç still stands as a strong candidate to replace Turkey’s respected judge Rıza Türmen but political observers say Karakaş has also got a chance to be elected since European circles remain warm toward female candidates in order to foster equal representation.

Some 20 current judges of the European court including Turkey’s Türmen will be retired in February and will be replaced by new judges