The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.


Several operatives of the Turkish Hezbollah – a Sunni Islamist terrorist organization with no ties to Lebanese Hezbollah – was released from prison on Tuesday after an amendment to the country's criminal procedures law came into effect on Dec. 31, which ordered for the release of suspects who have been held without trial for more than five years. Eighteen suspects who have been held since July 2000 in the Hezbollah case were set free, including leaders, such as Edip Gümüş and Hacı İnan, who are charged with murdering 103 people by burying them alive.

On the other hand, Professor Haberal who saved many lives by transplantation is still in custody.


Unconvicted prisoners are being released from Turkish jails as part of a law that caps the maximum period inmates can be incarcerated without sentencing at 10 years. But while some have gone free, experts say the court ruling fails to align with EU standards—despite that being the stated goal of the reform that came into effect with the new year

New measures that were meant to harmonize Turkey's laws, covering those arrested and held prior to conviction, with European Union standards are now in force. Yet experts have said the court-approved 10 years of incarceration for some cases runs counter to EU law.

The 9th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled Monday that suspects could be incarcerated for up to a decade in cases that are heard by courts with special authority, instead of five years [as stipulated by the new law].

The Criminal Procedure Code was changed five years ago as an effort to harmonize Turkish law with European Union regulations, but now, just as the law is coming into force, experts are suggesting five to 10 years of arrest without conviction is unacceptable by European standards.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was asked his opinion on the matter Tuesday and said it is the opinion of the court and additional legal changes will be made if needed.

Suspects held without conviction for years are being released in the first days of 2011 following applications made through their lawyers. For organized crime members who were tried in courts of serious crimes, the upper limit is five years.

Sedat Şahin, an infamous mob figure on trial for six offenses including murder, is likely to be released temporarily. Suspects on trial for offenses that fall under the jurisdiction of courts with special authority and have spent more than a decade behind bars are able to benefit from the change.

There were 30 such prisoners, according to the Monday edition of the daily Habertürk, while Tuesday's papers said 26 were released. The prisoners include members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU; the fundamentalist terrorist organization Hizbullah, which has no ties to the Lebanese group of the same name, and some leftist organizations.

The first and 10th penal offices of the Supreme Court of Appeals had released a total of 37 people by Monday while more releases occurred Tuesday, including the head of the military wing of the Hizbullah.

The public, however, is not really aware of the situation surrounding the situation, according to Emin Aktar, head of the Diyarbakır Bar, who said such a state of affairs was "totally wrong."

He criticized the press for reflecting the news as if murderers and drug dealers were being set free and said the suspects would remain on trial without arrest.

The period of arrest has "unfortunately turned into the punishment itself" in Turkey, Aktar said, adding that that affected judicial impartiality. "We need a change in mentality rather than a change in laws."

Tolga Akalın, the lawyer for Ergenekon suspect Kemal Kerinçsiz, said the changes were made to stop Turkey from being constantly convicted at the European Court of Human Rights.

"Foremost, the decision of the 9th Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals is not obligatory," he said, adding that he expected the head prosecutor of the Supreme Court would object to the case at the General Penal Board.

If not, another office might evaluate the article differently, but the matter will be solved by the board eventually, Akalın said, adding that international pacts were more important than local law according to Article 90 of the Constitution.

Also, the Turkish judiciary's incapability of dealing with a high workload is not an excuse for decade-long periods of arrest. "Your infrastructure deficiencies do not concern the suspect."

Professor Caner Yenidünya, criminal law expert from Marmara University, said the calculation of 10 years was not wrong according to the laws in effect but that does not mean it is a reasonable upper limit. "Even five years is too long," he said, adding that the courts do not need to hold people under arrest to the extent of the upper limit. "There are many people who were convicted by the local court, but since their dossiers were kept waiting by the Supreme Court of Appeals, they have remained under arrest for years.

"This situation means the execution of a punishment cannot be started and is leading to several examples of Turkey being convicted by the European Court of Human Rights. These people cannot benefit from chances of release on probation since they are not formally charged and many give up their rights to appeal because of this," the professor said. "The length of arrest is a serious problem and it is not right for our courts to practice it as a form of 'pre-punishment,'" said Yenidünya.


According to the disclosed Wiki leaks documents, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey sent a cryptic message to the State Department on November 2009, saying: "Tehran prefers to buy fuel from the USA rather than Russia and England. A diplomatic mission from Tehran visited Turkey and they stated this in Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs."


In a statement to Milliyet daily, Turkish President Abdullah Gül commented on Nationalist Movement Party Chairman Devlet Bahçeli's harsh remarks on his recent visit to southeastern province of Diyarbakır. "I was very surprised with his tone," Gül said.

Bahçeli earlier criticized Gul for "legitimizing ethnical separatists."

Speaking to Milliyet, Gül's press advisor Ahmet Sever said, "The president was very surprised with Mr. Bahçeli's statements and he felt sorry. He was particularly sad that a party chairman could not see the president's efforts aiming at strengthening the state's commitment to Diyarbakır."


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday fired a salvo of harsh criticisms at the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), accusing it of trying to prevent a solution to the Kurdish issue. "Their plan is to hinder the solution. Let me put it straightforwardly: This attitude is an attitude to gain political capital out of tears of the mothers, sufferings of the fathers and the blood of our young people," Erdoğan told his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in a meeting at Parliament.


Iran invited world powers, the EU and its allies, to tour nuclear sites before a high-profile meeting late January in Istanbul over its disputed nuclear program. Such visits to Iran's atomic facilities are rare and the last trip, which Tehran arranged for members of the UN nuclear watchdog, dates back to February 2007.

Iran will open its atomic sites to some world powers ahead of a multinational summit in Istanbul, an official announced Tuesday, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted the West is wrong to confront Tehran over its nuclear program.

Invitations to visit Iran's nuclear sites have been sent to ambassadors of some of the countries represented in the U.N. atomic watchdog, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters.

Iran has sent a letter to the Turkish Foreign Ministry inviting Ankara to join the tour of its atomic sites, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials told the Daily News on Tuesday. The officials said the Turkish government is considering how to respond.

The rare move comes as Tehran works to garner support for its atomic drive in the run-up to talks with six world powers in Turkey at the end of January. "The representatives of some European Union countries, NAM [Non-Aligned Movement], and some representatives of the five-plus-one [six world powers] have been invited to visit our nuclear sites," Mehmanparast said.

But diplomatic sources at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said invitations have gone only to Russia and China, while the United States, Britain, France and Germany were not among the invited world powers. The invitees also included Hungary as rotating president of the European Union, Egypt and Cuba, they said.

He said the invitation was part of the Islamic republic's attempt to demonstrate "cooperation with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]." ISNA news agency meanwhile cited Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asgar Soltanieh, as saying that the visit was scheduled for Jan. 15 and 16 and would be to the Islamic republic's main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and the heavy water facility at Arak. "This invitation is within the framework of Iran's transparent nuclear policy," Soltanieh said. Mehmanparast said the visit showed the "goodwill of our country and the peaceful and cooperative nature of our [nuclear] activities."

Such visits to Iran's atomic facilities are rare and the last trip, which Tehran arranged for members of the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, dates back to Feb. 2007. The proposed new visit to nuclear facilities, Mehmanparast said, "will take place before the Istanbul meeting," for which a final date has yet to be determined.

Iran and the six powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany - are to meet for another round of talks on Tehran's atomic program. The previous round of talks, which took place after a hiatus of 14 months, was held in Geneva on Dec. 6 and 7.

The talks are aimed at ascertaining whether Iran is seeking nuclear weapons or is indeed looking only to meet the energy needs of its growing population, as it insists. China, a close ally and economic partner of Iran, confirmed it was among those invited to visit the atomic sites. "China has received the invitation from the Iran side and will maintain communication with Iran on this," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, without giving details.

Mehmanparast did not specify whether Iran's arch-foe, the United States, one of the six world powers negotiating with Tehran over its nuclear program, was among those invited. Asked specifically whether a U.S. representative would be invited, Mehmanparast replied: "The list of the countries invited for the visit will be unveiled when it is finalized."

Washington has been spearheading a campaign of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which world powers suspect is masking a drive for atomic weapons. It has also not ruled out a military strike to stop the growing nuclear program under Ahmadinejad. Tehran has been slapped with four sets of U.N. sanctions.

Ahmadinejad was adamant on Tuesday that the West had made a mistake by confronting Iran over its nuclear program. "You should accept that you have made mistakes. You should accept that you chose the wrong path," the hardliner said in a speech at his hometown Semnan that was broadcast live on state television.

He said adopting the "previous path [of confronting Tehran] will have no result but defeat," adding that the West must respect the rights of other countries. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have maintained that pursuing nuclear technology is the Islamic republic's "inalienable right."


A planned government survey on the public's attitude toward religious issues is prompting concern that secularism in Turkey could be eroded as experts debate the appropriateness of conducting such a poll.

"The state doesn't carry out surveys. They are done by research institutions. It has not been a common instrument in Turkey," former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday.

"The definition of secularism, for instance, is already clear. There is no need to conduct a survey about already-known concepts. It seems the government expects a result that is in line with their views and will make it a base for drafting the new Constitution," he said.

The country's Religious Affairs Directorate, which has been undergoing internal restructuring, has given the go-ahead for the survey, which is slated to begin in March. Tens of thousands of citizens will be asked their opinion on public institutions, the headscarf issue, religious classes in schools, Alevi demands, the relationship between the government and religion and the directorate's areas of service.

The results of the survey will be examined after the general elections set to be held in June and are expected to shape the new constitution if the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is re-elected.

Speaking to daily Radikal, State Minister Faruk Çelik, who is in charge of religious affairs, said it was the government's job to address society's problems, listing Turkey's "chronic problems" as its southeastern region, the Kurdish issue and its disadvantaged groups, including women, people with disabilities and young adults.

The survey, which will consist of hundreds of questions, is also expected to define the concept of a "public institution" so as to help bring some resolution to the headscarf issue. Women are not permitted to wear headscarves while working or studying at state-run institutions, including public schools.

The Daily News was unable to reach Çelik for further comment.

The debate on removing the ban on headscarves in state-run schools and government offices as well as on the definition of public institutions were renewed in October ahead of the Republic Day reception held by President Abdullah Gül at the Çankaya Palace – which is considered a public institution – when the main opposition party and military boycotted the event because of the president's wife's headscarf.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç likewise said during his tenure as speaker of Parliament that it was possible to redefine secularism.

Secularism, while an unalterable article of the Constitution, will always remain in the Turkish charter, yet it can be redefined in line with the changing conditions and requirements of society, Arınç said.

For many in conservative circles, "secularism" remains loosely defined. As practiced in Turkey, secularism has often mirrored the French understanding of laicism, a largely anti-clerical discourse that subordinates religion to the state, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon notion of secularism as the separation of religion and state.

Secular quarters in the country have long expressed concern that the government plans to change the secular nature of the Turkish Republic and that headscarves could soon become a fixture of primary and high schools, as well as government offices, if secularism is redefined. As such, many secularists are concerned the survey could become part of the larger plan, [fears that were] articulated by Türk.

"What types of questions will be asked? I can't understand its purpose. Will the meaning and scope of secularism be determined in line with the survey results?" Türk asked in questioning the aim of the survey.

"The Constitutional Court annulled the wearing of headscarves in state-run universities. Maybe they will use the survey results to bring it back onto the agenda while drafting the new Constitution," he said.

For Ekrem Ali Akartürk, a professor of constitutional law at Yeditepe University, surveys are an appropriate instrument to measure the public's sentiment on various topics, but it is important to harmonize the public sentiment with legal principles and adhere to the limits when conducting such polls.

"The state may take the pulse of the public via surveys on the mentioned issues if it seeks an answer to the question of how people can live together. It is important to understand their inclination," Akartürk said.

"But it is even more important to formulate this public sentiment within the legal rules. How will it be formulated within the laws if the public leans toward headscarves in universities? The legal limits and formulation of the results should be drawn clearly."

There are some concerns about the government's move, but it is wrong to approach every step of the government with prejudice, Akartürk said, advocating compromise.

"However, the survey should be accompanied by consultation with opposition and legal experts who specialize in this field. And all these processes should be transparent. Surveys can prove successful only if an integrated approach is embraced," he said.

Professor Özer Sencar, head of the Ankara-based MetroPOLL survey company, which is affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said surveys were an instrument to obtain information about the public sentiment and that there was nothing wrong in political parties applying the method to learn about the public's view on their potential actions.

"Political parties can survey the public to see whether they will receive sufficient support from the public … on their future projects. Only human rights issues cannot and should not be the subject of surveys," Sencar said.

"Otherwise, political parties can ask the public questions on every project they plan to carry out … to strengthen their future actions before media and public," Sencar said.

Instead of reacting to the survey method, the opposition parties should likewise use similar surveys against the ruling party by asking the public questions on relevant topics, he said.

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