UN harshly criticises Turkey for deterioration of human rights
GENEVA - Turkey faced harsh criticism Tuesday at a United Nations review of its rights record, with diplomats condemning intimidation of journalists and brutal police crackdowns on demonstrators.
"We are concerned about growing restrictions on freedom of expression, including censorship of new media and the Internet, and provisions of Turkish law that unduly limit peaceful assembly," US representative Keith Harper told the UN Human Rights Council.
His comments came during a so-called Universal Periodic Review of Turkey's rights record -- something all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.
But Turkey hit back, insisting it had made great strides in human rights and that freedom of expression and assembly were "indispensible" parts of the country's democratic order.
"The protection and promotion of human rights is one of our priority political objectives," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Buelent Arinc told the council.
While acknowledging there were some journalists in Turkish prisons, he insisted their detention was "not related to their journalistic activities."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has sacked thousands of police and scores of judges and pushed through legislation tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary, raising questions at home and abroad about the state of democracy in Turkey.
Egypt was especially harsh in its criticism, with representative Amr Ramadan lamenting a "severe deterioration in the human rights situation in Turkey," and slamming Ankara for deadly crackdowns on demonstrators and jailing journalists.
"We would have wished to have seen such criticism coming from parties who adhere to the same universal values as we do," Arinc fired back at Egypt, which itself has jailed numerous journalists and seen many protestors killed in clashes with security forces.
However, Egypt's criticism was echoed by a large number of the 122 diplomats to take the floor Tuesday.
Harper, the US representative, pointed to "government interference in the judiciary and law enforcement sectors," including efforts to reorganise the courts, warning that this "undermines the rule of law."
British representative Karen Pierce expressed concern over "restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and expression, and the separation of powers," urging Ankara to "ensure judicial reforms are implemented in line with international standards."
Others criticised Turkey for discriminating against minorities.
Armenia's representative Vahram Kazhoyan said Ankara should return "the confiscated properties of Armenians and other religious minorities, such as places of worship, including monasteries, church properties and religious and cultural sites."
He also called for Turkey to "fully implement the international obligations emanating from the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
Armenians say the Ottoman state conducted genocide against them during World War I repressions that left an estimated 1.5 million people dead. But modern Turkey has always vehemently resisted terming the mass killings as genocide.