Turkey to Abolish the Death Penalty | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.08.2002
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Turkey to Abolish the Death Penalty

In a landmark decision, the Turkish Parliament pushed ahead with a reform package that includes lifting the death penalty in peacetime. It hopes that will propel the country forward on its path to the European Union.


Landmark vote - Turkey's ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, left, and his new deputy and Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel

In the face of stiff opposition mainly from the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), pro-EU forces in the Turkish parliament rushed a far-reaching reform package on early Saturday morning.

The package, which was passed after a marathon debate lasting close to 22 hours, includes measures ending punishments for criticism of the armed forces and other pillars of the Turkish establishment, outlawing organ and people smuggling, easing restrictions on foreign associations working in Turkey as well as on the Kurdish language.

No more capital punishment

But perhaps the most significant reform foreseen in the package is the abolishment of the death penalty from Turkey’s civil code, except in times of war or a near war.

Turkey is the only country in the European Council that has the death penalty enshrined in its constitution, though it has not implemented it for the past 18 years.

The removal of the death penalty will be a relief to Turkey’s most prominent prisoner – the guerilla leader of the separatist organisation, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan. Just three years ago, a fierce debate broke out in Turkey over executing the Kurdish leader, who is blamed for more than 30,000 deaths in conflict with security forces.

More Rights and Freedom to the Kurds

The reform packet also deals with another sensitive issue – raising cultural rights for the country’s minority Kurdish population and giving them increased freedom of expression.

It allows the Kurds television and radio broadcasts in the Kurdish language as long as they follow constitutional principles and do not incite violence.

Expatriot Kurds living in Europe have been broadcasting via satellite to Turkey for years, much to the anger of the Turkish state, which routinely accuses the channels of acting as mouthpieces for the separatist rebels of the Pkk.

The reforms also enable private schools to teach in languages other than Turkish on the condition that they do not violate the constitution.

The strongest opposition to key reforms empowering the Kurdish population has come from the MHP, who fear that allowing freedoms for the Kurdish language might encourage armed seperatism in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated south-east.

Hoping to get into Brussels' good books

Reformists in Turkey are hoping that Brussels sees the historic passing of the reform package as an important step towards Turkey fulfilling the criteria for joining the European Union.

They aim to convince Brussels to set a date for membership talks later this year although the EU could likely prefer to see how the reforms are implemented.

In the past Turkey has run into problems with Brussels after defaulting on promises to implement reforms. It has also often come under fire from international humanitarian organisations and the UN for its poor human rights record.

But there were few doubting voices in the Turkish media today as most newspapers expressed unrestrained delight at the landmark passing of the reforms.

"Europe, we’re coming!" was Milliyet newspaper’s headline, while the Sabah newspaper bore the front page banner headline "Thank you. The death penalty , the main obstacle for EU membership is abolished with a historic vote", it proclaimed.

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