Draft law on native language legal defence draws criticism
Many Kurds say the proposal falls short of demands.
By Ali Ciftci for SES Türkiye in Ankara -- 20/12/12
Slowing momentum for a draft law on legal defences in native languages has dampened expectations for a rapid solution to the Kurdish issue, according Kurdish rights advocates.
Kurdish defendants make victory signs from the window of a prison vehicle as they arrive for a hearing in Diyarbakir. [AFP]
The ruling AKP drafted the bill following the autumn hunger strike by Kurdish prisoners, creating hope that reforms were imminent. The legislation passed its initial committee, but the parliamentary vote needed to make it law has been delayed until next year. Meanwhile, critics charge that the draft falls short of meeting the demand for legal defences in native languages.
In remarks to journalists, AKP parliamentary group co-chairman Nurettin Canikli said the bill has been pushed into 2013 because of the heavy workload before parliament, and indicated that tensions surrounding the government's proposal to strip immunity from several deputies with ties to the BPD opposition party also played a factor.
"Mother tongue defence has been postponed until next year. Let's not force it now," he said.
"We said, 'Let's let the parliament calm down a bit'," added Canikli in reference to tensions over the immunity issue.
Selahattin Coban, a veteran Kurdish human rights lawyer and vice president of the human rights group Mazlum-Der, questioned if the government is serious about finding a solution to the Kurdish issue.
"The ruling power is stalling to keep Kurds in their hands. They're seeing how long they can stall and deceive people," Coban told SES Türkiye. "[Their] approach is that they don't want to do anything, but there seeing what they can do at a bare minimum just to appease people's anger."
Mehmet Durdu, whose son Yunus participated in the hunger strike for 58 days, said the government is failing to fulfill its pledges.
"The AKP gave a different message when our children were starving than they are giving now," Durdu said, adding that he was proud of his son.
Cuma Agac, a former head of the AKP's provincial organisation in Sanliurfa, rejected assertions the ruling party was behaving insincerely, telling SES Türkiye the draft would contribute to peace.
"On the contrary, our party has taken a positive step towards a solution," he said. "It recognises the right to use in legal defenses a language whose pronunciation [was] forbidden. Step by step, our government is ending assimilation."
Ali Fuat Bucak, head of the Sanliurfa Bar Association, attributed the delay to ongoing debates on the budget for 2013. "Taking up the required budget debates first doesn't necessarily show a bad intention," he told SES Türkiye.
But Bucak and other Kurds criticised the draft law's content, particularly its stipulation that defendants wishing to use their native language must pay for the interpreter. Moreover, rights defenders expressed concern that the draft allows judges considerable leeway in determining when to allow suspects to use languages other than Turkish.
As a result, Kurdish activists said these provisions give their language a second-class status and fail to recognise what they see as Kurds' basic rights.
"The draft isn't how we'd like it to be," Bucak said. "If the president of the court considers the request [to present defences in a native language] to be an attempt to draw out proceedings, he can refuse it."
The fact that the draft came in the wake of the hunger strike, which was a traumatic event for many Kurds, seemed to add a tinge of bitterness to critics' evaluations of the draft. For example, Coban called the law "funny and unacceptable."
"The translator's fees are left to the defendant. In the criminal code, there's no article related to defenses in exchange for money, and there's no precendent for it," he said. "This is only done to Kurds."
Durdu said he saw the provision as an insult to Kurds.
"It's saying that they don't recognise our language, but that we can speak the language we want in exchange for money," he said.
The text of the draft law says that the condition is intended to prevent defendants from distorting the legal process.
"This will ensure that [requests to use a native language in court] are not used for ill purposes to draw out the process," it reads.
Coban also said the law undermines chances for a fair trial by allowing use of native languages only at certain points in the legal process.
"In the stages of interrogation and investigation, there's no right to mother tongue defense," he said. "[The draft only touches on it] at the stage of prosecution."