By Selcuk Gokoluk
ANKARA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - European Union candidate Turkey still has a high number of cases of torture despite government pledges of zero tolerance, the country’s biggest rights group said on Tuesday.
In its 2006 report, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) also said other human rights abuses were on the rise, citing extra judicial killings and deaths in detention.
IHD data showed 708 cases of torture last year, down from 825 in 2005.
"The fight against torture and the fall in the number of cases is not good enough ... Is it normal to have 708 torture cases in a country where torturers get zero tolerance ?" Yusuf Alatas, head of the IHD, said at a news conference.
The centre-right AK Party government, which began EU entry talks in 2005, has vowed to show zero tolerance to torturers.
The European Commission said in a progress report last year that allegations of torture and the impunity of its perpetrators were a cause for concern in Turkey.
Extra-judicial killings and deaths in custody as a result of torture rose to 130 in 2006 from 89 the previous year, IHD said.
Alatas attributed some of the rise in reported abuses to an upsurge in violence in Turkey’s impoverished southeast, where Kurdish rebel guerrillas are battling Turkish security forces.
Restrictions on freedom of expression are also increasing as security takes precedence amid a more nationalist climate in Turkey, he said. Turkey faces presidential and parliamentary elections this year.
More than 1,000 people are on trial in Turkey for expressing their views and 108 people were given jail sentences in 2006, the IHD data showed.
A number of writers, including Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk and slain Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink, were prosecuted in 2006 under Article 301 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to insult Turkish identity or state institutions.
The EU has urged Turkey to scrap or amend the article.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said recently parliament would consider amending the article in the near future, though experts say the real problem is the conservative mentality of Turkish prosecutors and judges, imbued with a culture that gives priority to the state over individual rights.
Alatas accused the police of using disproportionate force in demonstrations.
"As a result of extreme use of force by the police, 12 people were killed last year... When a few university students meet for a protest, thousands of police gather. Students are being tried just for protesting about tuition fees," he said.
Police were not immediately available for comment.
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