Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday unveiled a human rights "action plan" designed to strengthen the rule of law and judicial independence in a country that rights groups say lacks both.
Erdogan quoted the late US civil rights leader Malcolm X in saying he stood “for justice, no matter who is for or against it” before laying out the details of his 11-point proposal.
Its commitments include respecting the presumption of innocence and a speedier judicial process to reduce the length of pre-trial detention.
Erdogan said the plans’ ultimate goal was to lay the groundwork for a new constitution that he has promised to adopt by the time Turkey marks its centenary as a post-Ottoman republic in 2023.
“Our goal is to further strengthen the rule of law,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.
But his speech coincided with the announcement that prosecutors were seeking a two-year jail term for Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu for insulting a former regional governor.
Imamoglu is a top member of the opposition CHP party who upset Erdogan’s candidate in a 2019 local election.
Turkish courts and prosecutors are also conducting a number of investigations into the pro-Kurdish opposition HDP party that could see it shut down before Turks go to the polls again in two years’ time.
In the face of growing economic problems at home, the Turkish leader has softened some of his toughest rhetoric and tried to improve relations with Washington and the European Union.
Erdogan has already shifted Turkey’s economic course by bringing in a group of market-friendly economists late last year to head the finance ministry and central bank.
EU leaders are scheduled to discuss sanctions against Turkey for its contested gas drilling operations in eastern Mediterranean waters claimed by Cyprus at a summit on March 25-26.
Erdogan’s overtures to the West include engaging Greece in the first direct talks about their maritime disputes in nearly five years.
But he unleashed a fierce crackdown after surviving a coup attempt in 2016 that critics say undermines his stated his commitment to human rights and judicial independence.
For years now, top political opponents and human rights leaders such as the Paris-born philanthropist Osman Kavala have been languishing behind bars without a conviction.
Members of the Turkish opposition received Erdogan’s pledges on Tuesday with a healthy dose of scepticism.
Erdogan “listed the issues on which his (ruling) AKP party set Turkey back. It sounded like a confession,” CHP lawmaker Onursal Adiguzel tweeted.