Conditional rendezvous may await Turkey in Copenhagen

A digital board just across from the Parliament house in Ankara demonstrates a countdown for the EU summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 12, possibly to remind Turkish lawmakers how much time is left to meet the EU criteria if Turkey wants to win a date for accession talks. Ironically, while the digital board was counting down, the man who is banned from politics but happens to be the leader of Turkey’s ruling party was on a tour of EU capitals to drum up support for Turkey’s EU aspirations. In Europe, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK), heard praise for past and advice for future reforms. Apparently he had a difficult task. It was quite paradoxical that the man who often complains that his political ban (due to a previous conviction for Islamist sedition) is a moral torture was trying to persuade the EU leaders that his country was fighting torture successfully and therefore deserved a date for talks. Mr Erdogan, whose party plans several reforms to end human rights violations, did not choose the best rhetoric during his meetings in Europe – saying that the EU would arouse Muslim suspicions that it was a «Christian Club» if it did not give Turkey a starting date for accession negotiations. But read his argument from the reverse angle: The EU should give Turkey a date even though it fails to meet the EU political criteria because it is a Muslim country! Abroad, Mr Erdogan argues that reforms over the past 18 months and planned reforms by the new government prove that the culture of Islam and democracy can indeed coexist. In return, he received European pats on the back, good wishes but no promise for a date – and not even a date for a date. Apparently he was given quite a rich catalog of conditions, including the complete abolition of torture, complete freedom of expression and effective political control of the military. At home, Prime Minister (and Mr Erdogan’s political confidant) Abdullah Gul, whose government is racing against time to push through radical reforms by Dec. 12, says he will «shock Europe» with a new reform package to ensure that: (a) police chiefs will no longer be required to approve prosecutions of subordinates; (b) periods of pre-trial detention will be shortened; (c) detainees will be guaranteed access to a lawyer; (d) defendants whose convictions have been overturned by the European Court of Human Rights may appeal to have their cases retried; (e) restrictions on forming non-governmental organizations will be eased; and (f) news organizations will be allowed to protect their sources. But is it not true that reading the plan, again, from the reverse angle, would indicate that in EU-candidate Turkey: (a) policemen accused of torture cannot be prosecuted without the prior approval of their chiefs; (b) periods of pre-trial detention are too long; (c) detainees are not guaranteed access to a lawyer; (d) defendants whose convictions have been overturned by the European Court of Human Rights cannot appeal to have their cases retried; (e) there are restrictions on forming NGOs; and (f) news organizations are not allowed to protect their sources? Turkey has much to do to shake off its reputation for police misconduct and curbing human rights. Three incidents in a short span of two weeks have only shown that the best that can be achieved in Copenhagen is a date for a date, if not a date for a date for a date. Recently, the whole of Turkey watched scenes on TV as a squad of policemen pushed a student during a street protest into what looked like a basement warehouse, shrugging off passers-by who wanted to stop the scene. When the student came out of the basement cuffed and walking in between two policemen, he had been badly beaten. Some Turks sighed with relief when the minister ordered a probe into the case, but the result of the ministerial investigation shows that Turkey is still the same old Turkey. According to the ministry’s internal affairs department, the student was injured as he mistakenly banged his head on the walls of the basement. The policemen who accompanied him there, the report concluded, should be acquitted of charges of misconduct. Instead, the report said, one policeman who wanted to stop his colleagues from taking the protester into the basement should be probed. It was not surprising, perhaps, that only days after that incident a Palestinian terrorist who attempted to hijack an El-Al plane in Istanbul appealed for extradition to the Israeli authorities rather than being jailed in Turkey. He thought he would be safer in an Israeli prison than in a Turkish one. Or take the unfortunate school director in southern Turkey who insisted on seeing the ID of a lady walking on the school premises. The poor chap was arrested because the lady was the wife of the town’s police chief. One of the schoolteachers who walked into the police station to inquire about the director’s situation had to leave the building with bruises and scratches. Police misconduct may happen everywhere. Only legal and governmental tolerance or intolerance explains why misconduct is sporadic in some countries and systematic in others. Hence Brussels will probably choose between two competing ideas on Dec. 12: a date for a date and something more, a conditional date with a rendezvous clause. Cyprus aside, the club has enough reason to keep the applicant on the waiting list.

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