Serkan Alan / Duvar English

Turkey’s Ministry of Justice has presented an initial draft of the government’s judicial reform package to the opposition, with which Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül says includes an amendment to anti-terror legislation that will include additional protection for freedom of expression. However, legal experts who have defended a number of journalists say that this is not the case.

On Sept. 23, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government shared its widely-discussed judicial reform package with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the right-wing nationalist Good Party (İP). Critics of the package have remained skeptical that real reform is to follow, given the major problems is dealing with in terms of a politicized judiciary where opponents of the government and critical journalists are routinely targeted for expressing their opinions.

The amendment in question refers to the 7th article of Turkey’s anti-terror law, which concerns the crime for those determined to have been guilty of making propaganda for a terrorist organization. The punishment is up to five years for individuals and can be increased to 7.5 years for journalists who are determined to have transmitted propaganda via a published article. The amendment aims to add the clause “Statements of opinion that do not exceed the limits of reporting or are for the purpose of criticism shall not constitute a crime” to this article. It has been said that this will protect journalists from being tried for terror propaganda crimes.

Through practical realization can unjust trials against journalists be prevented

“This not a provision that will completely protect reporting and journalism, nor will it prevent unjust charges from being brought against journalists,” said lawyer Veysel Ok, who has defended a number of journalists who have been targeted for their reporting. Ok pointed out that Article 301 of Turkey’s constitution already includes a provision for protecting statements of opinion that are made for the purpose of criticism, adding that there are nevertheless many people in Turkey who have or are being tried for being critical or expressing their opinion.

Ok said that not via an amendment but only through practical realization can unjust trials against journalists be prevented, and that this will continue to be a problem unless Turkey’s justice system becomes independent and the structure of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the members of which are appointed by parliament and by Erdoğan himself, is changed.

“It is the government that makes decisions regarding what is news and what is a statement of opinion,” Ok told Duvar English.

This is just makeup

Akın Atalay, one of the journalists formerly of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper who was tried and convicted on terror charges in one of the most high-profile cases against journalists in recent years, also criticized the move as disingenuous.

“They use the judiciary as vehicle for the continuance of the government and their own preferences and views and they are not complaining about this. But when society says “enough, let’s have a bit of freedom” they put on this kind of show. This is makeup, and I don’t think this makeup will be effective, Atalay told Duvar English.

CHP deputy Muharrem Erkek also evaluated the amendment as “makeup”, echoing the sentiment of numerous critics who argue that reform is impossible without changing the structure of the HSK.

“Every day we meet with prosecutors and judges. While the HSK is in it current state they say ‘don’t expect any heroism from us.’ The head of a political party alone determines who constitutes the HSK. In this situation it is comical to refer to this regulation as reform. This is not reform. An independent and impartial judiciary and the establishment of rule of law is required for reform. For this, constitutional change is required.” Erkek told Duvar English.