Rights group: Turkey rolling back human rights

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey is rolling back on human rights and the rule of law, a human rights group said Monday, calling on the country to take steps to protect free speech, the right to peaceful protests and legal principles.

In a 38-page report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the Turkish government's moves to tighten controls over the media and the Internet and its clampdown on critics and protests.

"For the sake of Turkey's future and the rights of its citizens, the government needs to change course and protect rights instead of attacking them," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the group's senior reporter for Turkey.

Human Rights Watch said that while thousands face prosecution for taking part in anti-government protests in 2013, few police officers have been held to account for causing several deaths and thousands of injuries.

The rights advocacy group also said the government had weakened the rule of law by responding to a corruption scandal with laws that curb the independence of the judiciary.

"Over the past year, (the ruling party) has responded to political opposition by tearing up the rule book, silencing critical voices and wielding a stick," Sinclair-Webb said in a statement.

A Turkish government official said the government would not and does not respond such reports by human rights advocates.

In the past, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — the current president and former longtime prime minister — has rejected accusations that police used excessive force during the anti-government demonstrations. The government also dismisses criticism on human rights and freedoms, insisting that it has done more than any previous government to advance democracy in Turkey.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the government's peace efforts with a Kurdish rebel group to end a 30 year-old conflict but said a "failure to address a larger rollback on rights may unravel the embryonic peace process."

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