FOREWORD: HUMAN RIGHTS IN 1998
The ANAP-DSP-DTP coalition government led by Mesut Yılmaz was in power in 1998. This government was established after Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the Welfare Party that represented the political Islam was made to resign as a result of the anti-fundamentalist policy imposed by the National Security Council (NSC) in its meeting on 28 February 1997. The public outrage against the counter-guerrilla relations that came out to light with the car crash in Susurluk also contributed to the change of government. When the 8-year obligatory education, the most important provision of the 28 February decisions, was put in force, students of the İmam Hatip High Schools giving religious education and their families held protests and these demonstrations marked the year 1998. The state organs and the government placed far greater emphasis on “secularism” and this policy also marked the political atmosphere in 1998. On the other hand, the 8-year obligatory education was not supported with a reform in the education system, and tens of thousands of children continued to be deprived of primary education.
Another item on the political agenda was the gangs. The government wanted to give the impression that there was a struggle against these crime organizations. The report prepared by the Prime Ministry Inspection Board was publicized partially in January. This report expressed that these gangs that are related with the state organs had involved in illegal activities and white-collar crimes beyond murders by unknown assailants, such as influencing the decisions in public tenders within the frame of privatization and providing financial loans for certain businessmen from the public banks. Corruption was another topic that was discussed extensively in 1998. Many files regarding corruption were brought on the agenda of the Parliament, including those that involved ANAP and DYP leaders. The Migration Commission in the Parliament resorted to the opinions of many NGOs, including HRA and HRFT, on the problem of migration. The Human Rights Commission in the Parliamentary dealt with the problem of torture, and provided the public with true information. The Commission’s Chairwoman Sema Pişkinsüt carried out investigations at police stations and in the State of Emergency Region (OHAL), which were given an ovation. However, in 1998, NGOs were not invited to attend the meetings of the Human Rights Coordinating High Council, which was established in 1997 by the Minister of State responsible for Human Rights Hikmet Sami Türk in order to enter into a dialogue with human rights defenders. The efforts of the High Council proved out to be ineffective, lacking cooperation with jurists and the human rights organizations. The state organs resisted against the studies of the High Council. In 1998, it was not possible to establish an independent human rights board in line with the UN standards. The National Committee for the Prevention of Torture that was mentioned by Minister Türk and emphasized by HRFT was not brought to existence.
Minister of Foreign Affairs İsmail Cem left the policy of denial and assumed a more realistic approach with regards to the human rights violations, and had a more convincing discourse both in the country and abroad. However, he did not change his attitude on the Kurdish problem.
Speeches and statements of certain members of the government and the parliament occasionally gave rise to hopes of a new policy aiming at the protection and improvement of rights and freedoms, but those promises were never fulfilled. Torture and extra-judicial executions continued to be systematic practices. The freedom of expression was not realized and those who expressed their opinions were punished. Incidents took place in prisons and the prison conditions were not improved. Extra-judicial executions, murders by unknown assailants and village evictions decreased in number when compared to previous years but they continued in 1998. The security officers resorting to excessive force violated the freedom of assembly and demonstrations. The police dispersed the crowd in meetings of the Confederation of Public Laborers’ Trade Unions (KESK). The police continuously interrupted the weekly vigil of the Saturday Mothers seeking a trace of their relatives outside the Galatasaray High School in İstanbul. Many of the relatives of the disappeared persons and those who gave support to them were detained, and many of the meetings were banned.
The legitimate and peaceful demonstrations of the university students were also interrupted by the police resorting to excessive force and by ultra-nationalist militants. The students, who demanded a free and democratic university system basing on equality, became the target of the police as well as the State Security Courts (SSC). Students, who opened placards during a session of the Parliament in order to voice their demands, were given a total of about 100 years’ imprisonment, which was commuted to a lesser term in 1998. This case indicated that the security forces had influenced the judgments of the SSCs, and the Court of Cassation also approved such a tendency.
In 1998, the newspapers and journalists continued to pay a high-price for their work. The police beat the reporters and broke their cameras during demonstrations. Newspapers Özgür Gündem and Emek were closed down.
Dissent political parties were also under close scrutiny. Many activities of ÖDP, EMEP and other socialist political parties were banned, investigations were brought against their board members, and their members were detained and arrested. The main target of the pressures was again HADEP. Its leader Murat Bozlak was arrested twice. Besides, he was not allowed to enter Diyarbakır after the general elections in 1995. Security officers raided the HADEP headquarters three times. One of the most important developments that marked 1998 was the closure of the Welfare Party, which was the first party after the elections. The Constitutional Court also banned some of the board members of RP from civic rights for 5 years and prevented their political activities. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Mayor of the metropolis of İstanbul, who was elected from the list of RP, was convicted because of a poem he read out in a speech. He was removed from office and banned from politics…