Erdoğan promises to strengthen free speech with new judicial reform

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been harshly criticized for his intolerance of free speech, has vowed to improve freedom of expression in Turkey with a new judicial reform package he unveiled on Thursday, Turkish media reported.

Erdoğan announced the “Judicial Reform Strategy Document” at a meeting at his presidential palace in Ankara.

“With this document, we are bringing forward new approaches aiming to strengthen freedom of expression in the country and take it to a better place,” Erdoğan said.

According to the Turkish president, the two main perspectives of the judicial reform package are to strengthen democracy, rights and freedoms and the improvement of the functioning of the judicial system.

Erdoğan is widely criticized for taking Turkey’s judiciary under his absolute control, particularly after a failed coup attempt in July 2016 following which Erdoğan launched a massive witch hunt in the country against his critics under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Erdoğan said with the new judicial reform, pre-trial detention will be not be resorted to excessively, while the necessary measures will be taken for a fair and effective trial. 

Around 50,000 people have been arrested while more than 500,000 have been prosecuted in Turkey since the failed coup attempt over alleged links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Most of the people arrested over Gülen links are held in pre-trial detention for months waiting for an indictment, and even pregnant women or women who have just given birth are arrested despite the fact that Turkish law calls for a delay in the detention of such women.

The new judicial reform package will also make it possible to ban access to a particular news article on a website if it is found problematic by Turkish authorities and not the entire website as has been done in the past, according to Erdoğan.

The president said although the EU has not kept its promises to Turkey regarding its membership process, Turkey is expressing its commitment to membership with the new judicial reform package he unveiled on Thursday.

Still considered a close security ally, Turkey’s candidacy to join the world’s largest trading group is frozen because of “further serious backsliding” on human rights, judicial independence and stable economic policy, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

With Erdoğan’s crackdown on dissidents and his sweeping new presidential powers that the commission says lacks checks and balances, many EU states say Turkey no longer meets the democratic criteria to be a candidate, let alone an EU member.

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