Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to improve the country’s human rights protections and bolster freedom of expression, as he set out a series of sweeping new legal reforms on Tuesday.
The move comes as Turkey is set to have its long-running membership bid for the European Union (EU) reassessed later this month, with its human rights record having proved the main barrier to its previous accession attempts.
Under the plans announced on Tuesday, which Erdogan’s administration has dubbed the ‘Human Rights Action Plan’, Turkey will move towards a new civilian constitution over a period of two years.
The legal proposals include forming an independent human rights monitoring commission, ombudsman reforms, and an end to time limits for disciplinary investigations of torture allegations.
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Turkish police will also be able to take statements 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Erdogan said.
The president promised that the standards of freedom of expression would be improved upon, including in the media, with new measures set to make it easier for journalists to work in Turkey.
The work of human rights organizations will also receive greater support, while employees and students of all faiths will be allowed to observe religious holidays.
Personal data protection legislation in Turkey is to move further towards EU standards.
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Negotiations between Ankara and the 27-member bloc officially began in 2005, but were effectively frozen by Brussels in 2018 over EU concerns that Turkey was not upholding democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.
The EU sees NATO member Turkey as a strategic ally in the Middle East, but European lawmakers have criticized Erdogan for allegedly silencing his critics and curbing freedom of speech.
More recently, Brussels has imposed sanctions on Turkish officials and been critical of Ankara over its naval activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, related to its disputes with Greece and Cyprus.
In January, Erdogan pledged to pursue better relations with the EU and suggested that Turkey taking its “deserved place” in the bloc could even help resolve any uncertainties sparked by Brexit.
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