MILITARY HANDS OVER SURVEILLANCE UNIT TO CIVILIANS
The Turkish General Staff is handing over control of a technical intelligence compound to Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The military intelligence compound, known as the Bayrak Garrison, is reportedly capable of intercepting all electronic communication in Turkey and among its immediate neighbors.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ordered the transfer, which is a turning point in relations between the military and the civilian authority.
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS VISITS GREECE
Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoğlu went to Athens today to meet with his Greek counterpart Dimitris Drucas and Greek Prime Minister Yorgo Papandreou.
ELECTION WILL BE A MILESTONE
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended the groundbreaking ceremony of Alaköprü Dam, which will be built on Dragon Creek. The dam will provide water for Turkish Cyprus for the town of Anamur in the southern province of Mersin. Noting that Turkey would have a historic general election 96 days later, Erdoğan said, "I hope the Republic of Turkey will mark the milestone of the 100th anniversary of its foundation with these elections."
JUSTICE MINISTER REJECTS PROBE OF BATUM
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has turned down a request to launch a probe into remarks by Süheyl Batum, a major figure with Turkey's main opposition party, the CHP, under Article 301 of the country's penal code. "He will not be probed over his remarks," Ergin told reporters.
A prosecutor in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak had asked the Justice Minister to give clearance to charge Batum, who has likened the Turkish Armed Forces to "a paper tiger."
TURKISH DIPLOMAT SAYS TURKEY MAY BE AN INSPIRATION FOR MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES
Turkey's top diplomat in Washington has said his country was unique in the Muslim world to have a parliamentary system, a secular regime and a functioning free market, adding that the country might be an inspiration for Middle Eastern countries. "Turkey is in no position to impose anything on the countries of the Middle East, but it can be an inspiration for them," Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington, told a panel discussion on Monday at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Tan said recent political developments in the Middle East had shown the importance of peoples' political demands and their right to speak for themselves, adding that they also raised questions whether Islam and democracy could live together. "Turkey is evidence that modernism, Islam and democracy can exist side by side," Tan said. "Turkey has always had close relations with its neighbors," adding that Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Israel and Palestine, as well as to open the first diplomatic missions in Central Asian republics at the turn of 1990s. "Turkey is located in a region with the most challenging problems in the world. That is why Turkey, in its quest for peace and stability, cannot turn a blind eye on issues at its door step," he said.
MORE TURKISH JOURNALISTS CHARGED IN AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT PLOT
Overnight a Turkish court charged five journalists with plotting against the Islamist-rooted government media reports said Monday. Ten people, most of them journalists, were placed in preventive detention Thursday on suspicion of an alleged plot against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The move came a day or two after the investigation of journalists, Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, who were charged and taken into custody. Sik is co-author of a book about the investigations and trials in the Ergenekon case, named after an organization allegedly at the center of a conspiracy. He had been working on a book about the police. Sener wrote a book on the murder of Hrant Dink, a well-known journalist and human rights defender.
The opposition and a substantial part of the media say the supposed conspiracy, which has led to the incarceration of hundreds of opposition figures since 2007, is a means of stifling all political dissent in Turkey.
Turkey will hold legislative elections on June 12 in which Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) will seek a third term.
SUPPORT GROWS FOR ARRESTED REPORTERS IN TURKEY
On Sunday Turkish journalists' organizations planned visits to the homes of two reporters to show their support for their colleagues' families and protest their arrests in an alleged coup plot.
Some 60 to 70 journalists gathered in front of the apartment of Ahmet Şık, who was formally arrested Sunday along with Nedim Şener, in the Ergenekon case. They chanted slogans such as "Ahmet and Nedim are our honor," "Ahmet will be out, Nedim will be out, they will write again" and "We are not afraid of oppression."
Hilmi Yarayıcı, a singer and parliamentarian from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was also among the protesters.
CHP chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called Şık's wife during the visits to express his support. "Ahmet and Nedim were journalists in order to have an honorable future for their children. Now they are accused of committing a crime because of being journalists," Kılıçdaroğlu told Yonca Verdioğlu. He added that the CHP would be closely following the case and would provide any kind of legal help necessary.
The demonstrations in protest of Şık and Şener's arrests will continue, the journalists said in a press statement accompanying Sunday's events. The gatherings were organized by the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC), the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), the Press Council and several other nongovernmental organizations.
"We won't stop because if we slow down our demonstrations the arrests of journalists will continue, that's for sure. We will continue reporting what is going on in Turkey and we will definitely be on the streets," said Alper Turgut, a TGS board member.
The journalists' unions said they would meet in Istanbul on Tuesday to plan scheduled demonstrations in protest of the latest arrests and against other recent interventions regarding Turkish freedom of the press.
The Ergenekon case started in June 2007 with the discovery of 27 hand grenades in a shanty house belonging to a retired noncommissioned officer. In the later stages of the investigation, those in custody have been accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.
EXPERTS SAY ARRESTS MADE TOO EASILY IN TURKEY
Turkey's justice minister has termed the recent arrest of journalists as a legal requirement, but many jurists have argued that the decision to arrest someone is made too easily in Turkey.
"Arresting people has already crossed the line in Turkey. Ninety-nine of one-hundred arrest decisions lack the concrete reason required by law. The law requires concrete evidence such as when and how the journalists became a members of a terror organization," criminal lawyer Metin Feyzioğlu, who is also the chief of Ankara Bar Association, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday. "Arrest in the Turkish legal system is an exceptional case; it prioritizes judgment without arrest," he said.
Last week a new wave of arrests, as part of the ongoing Ergenekon case, increased the number of journalists in prison from 61 to 68, and sparked a huge public outcry. This put the arrests under more scrutiny.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Monday that people losing their freedom did not make anybody happy but the important thing was whether the arrests were arbitrary. "Somebody killed Hrant Dink and he has been jailed for about four years. Should we release him? There's a difference between a traffic accident and killing someone intentionally. It appears it's the same for all incidents and judges decide for that accordingly," Ergin said.
Jurists, however, point to domestic and international law which favor judgment without arrest and lack of evidence in arrest decisions. "As a general rule, people are arrested before evidence surfaces," Feyzioğlu said. It is likewise unlawful for an Istanbul court to issue a search warrant for a house in Ankara and hide the case files from the lawyers of the suspects' arrested. It is similarly a crime for the evidence or talks between suspects and prosecutors to appear in the newspapers, despite the confidentiality of the cases, he said.
"But the Ergenekon case is increasingly politicized and harms the freedom of press. The arrests created an impression that dissidents are put in jail and the case is open to influence from the government," Feyzioğlu said. "There are legal ways to oppose these situations, but there is again an impression that they are doomed to fail under the broader picture," he said.
'Arrest a measure'
For former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, "The arrest decision is made easily in practice in Turkey. Arrest is actually a measure. The judicial process fails to start and long periods of arrests then take place. Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights both anticipate the judgment of suspects within a reasonable time, but the arrest periods in Turkey are against these laws," Türk said adding that the Article 19 of the Constitution and Article 100 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CMK), limited the scope of arrests. Both articles cover the reasons for arrest which anticipate arrest in the case of strong suspicion of an offense, as well as those who are at risk of escaping or tampering with evidence along with situations which are outlined in respective laws, such as in the case of crimes against the constitutional order.
"Even in the case of strong suspicion of offense, the arrest decision is at the discretion of the judge as the article stipulates that a decision to detain a suspect or defendant 'may be made,'" Türk said. "Furthermore, the prosecutor says that the arrests are not related to journalists' professional activities but the questions revealed in the media shows they are related to the works they wrote or will write about. This is a danger for democracy and free media," he said.
Referring to the Article 100 of the CMK, Professor Sami Selçuk, the former president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, said arrest was not mandatory and the arrest decision was left to the discretion of judge. "The article says 'they may be arrested.' There should be a strong suspicion of offense," he told the Daily News.
Constitutional lawyer Sultan Uzeltürk of Yeditepe University said the arrests were made for vague reasons in the absence of a concrete indictment. "Arrest is a measure. There are no reasons and evidence. The recent arrests are against Constitutional law."
The Ergenekon case is investigating individuals suspected of attempting to overthrow the government by injecting chaos in society.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IS SHAMEFUL
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan relayed a clear message on March 8, International Women's Day: "Nobody can legalize violence against women under the name of honor."
"Discrimination against women is something inhumane," Erdoğan said. "Unfortunately, violence against women was always hidden. This is nonsense. We have always protected women who were exposed to violence, and we will continue to do so."