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TURKEY Human rights

Inching away from democracy?

By Toby Vogel  -  19.01.2012 / 04:34 CET
Observers fear rise of ‘illiberal democracy'.

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ON GUARD Journalists outside the Justice Palace in Istanbul take part in a protest against a clampdown on the media. REUTERS
Fact file

High-profile court case

On Tuesday (17 January), a court in Istanbul handed down a life sentence to Yasin Hayal for instigating the murder in 2007 of Hrant Dink, the editor of a Turkish-Armenian newspaper.

Ogün Samast, the man who pulled the trigger, had already received a 23-year sentence last June. Dink's assassination, in broad daylight on a crowded street in central Istanbul, had shocked Turkey; some 100,000 mourners attended his funeral.

The real question before the court on Tuesday was whether there was a broader nationalist conspiracy behind the assassination, possibly linked to the Ergenekon case. The court found that there was not, and acquitted Hayal and 18 co-defendants of charges that they were members of a terrorist organisation.

Dink's family and associates are angry that the court failed to take into account new evidence. Fethiye Çetin, a lawyer for the Dink family, said that mobile-phone records showed that the two convicted men were in contact with more than a dozen different people at the time of the murder.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Turkish officials for their failure to protect Dink, who had asked for police protection, and against the Turkish authorities for failing to investigate security officials with knowledge of the threat against Dink.

EU membership talks

Turkey's membership talks with the EU have stagnated since June 2010. Talks have opened in 14 of the 33 policy areas into which membership negotiations are divided. (There are two other chapters that are not subject to negotiations.) In all, 18 chapters have been blocked by France, Cyprus or the EU as a whole, primarily over Turkey's occupation of the northern third of Cyprus.

The talks are expected to remain suspended for at least another year. Denmark, the current holder of the rotating presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers, has hinted that it does not expect that any additional chapters will be opened until the end of June, when it hands over to Cyprus, although there is a slight chance that the chapter on competition policy might be opened.

France, which has been blocking several chapters, will not reverse course ahead of presidential elections in April and May. And Cyprus's turn as chair of the rotating presidency in the second half of 2012 is likely to result in the complete freezing of membership talks – unless a miracle happens and there is a breakthrough in talks for the reunification of the divided island.

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