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Turkey human rights abuses rise amidst rising religious and nationalist extremism

7 November 2006

Turkey is dragging its feet over urgent human rights reforms and abuses against minorities are on the increase amidst rising religious and nationalist extremism, says Minority Rights Group, in advance of the European Commission’s influential annual report on Turkey on Wednesday.

With growing uncertainty over Turkey’s accession to the EU, press reports indicate the Commission’s review is expected to condemn Turkey’s continuing use of torture and restrictions on freedom of expression. But the rights of millions of Turks belonging to minority communities must not be forgotten, says the international human rights organization.

MRG’s Director of International Advocacy, Clive Baldwin, says, “When Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for literature, Turkey’s restrictions on freedom of expression, were thrust into the spotlight. But the human rights concerns in Turkey go beyond one or two high-profile issues.”

Religious and nationalist extremism is on the rise in Turkey – with minorities in the front line. In early 2006, a Roman Catholic priest was murdered during the Danish Cartoons controversy. In recent months, there has been an unprecedented spate of attacks on Kurdish citizens – mainly in the West of the country.

MRG’s Turkey project officer, Nurcan Kaya, says: “The growth of this ‘lynch’ culture is really worrying. Never before have Kurds been arbitrarily targeted in this way. And the authorities haven’t done enough to put a stop to it.”

In the run-up to the opening of EU accession talks in 2004, there was a flurry of reform aimed at improving human rights in Turkey. However, the pace has since slowed. One example is the plight of the millions – mainly Kurds and Assyrians – displaced by the conflict in the South-East of the country in the 1990s. Most continue to live in deep poverty, often in the slums around Istanbul and other cities.

Spurred by the accession criteria, the Turkish government introduced a new law to compensate for destroyed property. But many families are unaware of their new rights – and the government has not made strenuous efforts to inform them. MRG says that the deadline to lodge claims for compensation – which expires at the beginning of January – is unrealistic and must be extended.

Baldwin says, “If Turkey is to succeed in its goal of joining the European Union, it must do so in a way which realizes the human rights of all its citizens – that includes those from marginalized, minority communities.”

Notes to editors

For more information or to arrange interviews with Nurcan Kaya, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].