Turkey's democratization package enters into force

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A new democratization package of reforms aimed at strengthening fundamental rights and freedoms came into force.

A new democratization package of reforms aimed at strengthening fundamental rights and freedoms came into force.

ISTANBUL -  A new democratization package of reforms aimed at strengthening fundamental rights and freedoms came into force after its publication on the parliament's official publication.

The reform package, the last major piece of legislation the parliament passed before it closed its session was approved by President Abdullah Gul on Thursday and entered into force. Two major items in the package are the right for private schools to offer education in their mother tongue language and the right of candidates and political parties to campaign using languages other than Turkish. The reforms also introduced tougher penalties for hate crimes.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the package on September 30 but the government delayed bringing it to parliament due to its busy schedule. However, the package was able to be included in the last session of parliament before closure.

One of the most important reform in the package deals with allowing private schools to teach in languages other than Turkish. The new law says that Turkish citizens can open private education institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives. These schools will be subject to the Private Educational Institutions Act and will be inspected by the Ministry of National Education. The reform will enable groups such as Kurds to have access to education in Kurdish.

The package also introduces tougher sentences for hate crimes. It stipulates that hate speech or acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion or sectarian differences will be punished by up to three years in prison.

With regards to political party organization and campaigns, parties and their members now have the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language or dialect. The reforms also allow former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods to be reinstated. 

The reform packages allows political parties to have a co-chair system on condition that the party has this system in their party's bylaws and limits the co-chairs to no more than two. Furthermore, the state will provide financial aid to political parties that receive more than three percent of the total number of valid votes in the parliamentary general elections and the respective aid will not be less than TL 1 million.The law also modifies the right to assembly. It requires that mass gatherings and demonstrations held outdoors must end before sunset while gatherings held in enclosed areas can continue until midnight.

Moreover, it empowers security officers to record the images and voices of participants and speakers during mass gatherings. The recordings, however, cannot be used for purposes other than to determine a crime or a criminal suspect.

More historically, the package annuls the 222th article of Turkish Penal Code, which requires a 2-6 months sentence for those that do not wear a western style hat. That (in)famous hat law had entered into force in 1925 as a part of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s reform.

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