The respect shown by government officials for fundamental rights and freedoms has increased throughout the EU-candidacy period. The judicial system has been strengthened by the adoption of structural reforms, and significant progress was made with the June 1, 2005 implementation of the new penal code, code of criminal procedure, the Law on Enforcement of Sentences and the Law on the Establishment of the Regional Courts of Appeal. However, independent organizations report continuing violations of rights, torture and ill-treatment at the hands of state officers. According to the 2009 Human Rights Report of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, especially after the passage of amendments to the Law on Police Duty and Responsibilities in 2007, human rights violations in all categories have increased, especially with respect to the right to life. Violations of the right of assembly, the freedom of expression, and the freedoms of the press and communication were also noted. The report states that the number of court cases and convictions related to “thought crimes” doubled in 2009. Although Article 301 of the Turkish penal code is no longer used systematically to restrict freedom of expression, the number of journalists, opinion leaders and politicians in custody and jail has increased. In addition, both the European Commission’s 2009 Progress Report and the Report of the Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Committee concerned the fight against impunity for human rights violations. While investigations into an alleged criminal network that includes military personnel continue, the extended period of imprisonment without trial for those accused has been criticized. Allegations of illegal wiretapping and violations of privacy and confidentiality by means of the Internet and the printed media have increased in recent years.
Article 42 of the constitution still reads that only Turkish is to be taught as mother tongue to Turkish citizens. Kurdish, the first language of approximately 12% of the population, is not taught at school at all, and to teach Kurdish to children in private remains grounds for prosecution. Parents of the Alevi Muslim confession, despite a ruling in their favor by the European Court of Human Rights, still must petition the courts to have their children exempted from obligatory religious (Sunni Islam) instruction. Female students wearing the headscarf are not permitted to attend university education settings, graduates from government vocational Imam schools face discrimination in their access to universities, and Turkey’s small non-Muslim communities do not enjoy full property rights over community owned real estate.
Other historically entrenched infringements of civil rights continued to exist as well. Some prisons are 100% overcrowded, and in so-called F-type-prisons, enforced solitude is still used as a method of torture. While the situation has improved somewhat, the violence exerted by police at demonstrations, during investigations and in custody is still out of proportion. A ban on thousands of Internet sites including “YouTube” angers Internet users, and threatens the freedom of expression and dissemination.
However, the political climate has changed for the better in all these areas during the period under investigation. For the first time, the government is permitting and even financing Kurdish language television, and Kurdish is now a research subject at some universities. The government has opened a dialogue with Alevi communities, and amended the constitution to change the headscarf regulation. This amendment was abolished by the Constitutional Court, however. Due to a change in legislation, non-Muslim communities, although only to a very limited extent, have successfully managed to claim community owned property expropriated earlier.