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Turkey's alcohol restrictions against European practice, Euro MP says

29 January 2011 [12:43] - TODAY.AZ
The new restrictions introduced by the AKP government regarding alcohol laws are inconsistent with Europe's free market principles, according to a EU MP. 'If they change, then it would be a clear step away from European values, says,' EU Labor party member Richard Howitt.

New restrictions on Turkey’s alcohol laws strongly backed by the government drew adverse criticism from a member of the European Parliament who said they were inconsistent with Europe’s free market principles.

The new regulations introduced by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, would prohibit alcohol from appearing in commercials and advertisements and bring strict new restrictions on alcohol licenses.

“It is a legal drug across the European Union, freely sold and consumed in European markets and therefore if restrictions are brought in Turkey they are inconsistent with our freedom in the EU,” Richard Howitt, Labor member of the European Parliament, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.

“The objective fact is a restriction on the market for alcohol is inconsistent with Europe’s free market principles and if it changes then it would be a clear step away from European values,” he said.

Howitt, alongside a group of several parliamentarians from the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, attended an inter-party seminar at the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, headquarters in Ankara as well as holding talks with government officials last week.

'European eyes to watch Turkey'

Freedom of the press in the run up to the June elections is another controversial area in Turkey with the latest progress report of the European Commission, the EU’s executive, published in November, citing problems in this particular field.

“There are clearly still problems in relation to freedom of expression in the country,” said Howitt.

“It is important to say in the run up to elections in particular, free debate, free interchange, free reporting of the different views, of the different parties is an integral part of a pluralistic, democratic process. I think European eyes will be watching very carefully to see that journalists are not simply able to report freely but to report freely in run up to the elections,” he added.

The parliamentarian expressed worries about not only Article 301 of the Turkish penal code that criminalizes insulting “Turkishness,” but other articles reflecting a similar mentality.

“The essential thing there is not to focus on simply one change to the law, the journalists should never be in prison for what they write or broadcasters for what they say,” he said.

The government-amended Article 301, under which a number of authors and intellectuals have landed in court, gives the authority to open cases to the justice minister, instead of a local prosecutor.

'Detention periods contradict European charter'

Prolonged detention periods in Turkey are another area considered as a serious violation of human rights. Howitt said prolonged periods of detention without charge is in contradiction to the European Convention on Human Rights.

“People should know the charges against them and they should have uninhibited access to defense lawyers to be able to present a proper defense clearly and fairly without torture or mistreatment, and the independent justice system should operate independently,” he said.

'Women should have safe haven'

The latest statistics about the situation of women in Turkey reveal the country is lagging behind. The European parliamentarian said the statistics do not mean that the situation is worsening but added that he was not minimizing the problem at all of the violence against women in this country.

He recalled a recent debate between Turkish officials and European parliamentarians about the number of shelters for women who are subjected to domestic violence.

“There should be a shelter in every municipality and any women who are subjects of domestic violence should have a safe haven to flee. The debate about the numbers is the wrong debate in my view,” said Howitt.

Asked if he shared concerns over Islamization of Turkey under the AKP rule, the parliamentarian said he was listening to such concerns that he noted cannot be ignored.

“But our job in the EU is to talk to the government, because it is an elected government. We also work not just with this government, but all parties in Parliament, with all of society, because it would not be the government that would join the EU but the country and its people,” he said.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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