The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression raised concerns over the Turkish Government’s widespread measures to erode independent opinion and freedom of expression in the country.
Following a week-long official visit to Turkey, David Kaye referred to the Government’s actions as “draconian measures” that are occurring “across the board.”
“The press, individuals online, artists, opposition voices and many others face unprecedented pressure, from censorship to outright detention,” he announced and urged the Government to reverse this course “and return to protecting and promoting the rights that all people in Turkey enjoy under their Constitution and international human rights law.”
Turkey is currently facing a wide range of serious threats, particularly after the 15 July attempted coup, to which Mr. Kaye expressed sympathy for those who continue to feel its shock. The coup attempt resulted in a number of deaths and injuries as well as assaults on the country’s democratic institutions.
Mr. Kaye insisted that the country must be responsible for the lives of its citizens and the continuation of its democratic freedoms. While the Government expressed to him its concerns about national security, he said “the unjustified attacks on lawyers, judges, journalists, artists, academics and activists undermine security and generate polarization and long-term instability.”
Defence of life and protection of democratic institutions must involve measures that are consistent with Turkey’s international obligations, he continued in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Several laws in particular, such as the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Emergency Decrees, the criminalization of defamation of the President, and various Internet regulations are imposing unnecessary and disproportionate attacks on the freedom of expression, even in the context of a state of emergency.
The Special Rapporteur determined during his visit that the anti-terrorism laws are regularly being used to criminalize reporting and shut down all forms of media. He said that the situation for freedom of expression is “grave.”
“I call on the Government in the strongest possible terms to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” Mr. Kaye urged.
With permission from the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Kaye met with a number of people who have been detained due to their media work, an opportunity to he said was an honour.
He met with five detainees from Cumhuriyet newspaper who are being held at the Silivri Prison in Istanbul: Hakan Karasinir, Bülent Utku, Güray Tekin Öz, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, and Onder Celik. He also met with the writer and activist Necimye Alpay at the Borokoy Women’s Prison in Istanbul, and spoke with a number of other detainee’s lawyers and associates. Mr. Kaye reported that the Ministry of Justice had denied access to eight other writers and journalists: Asli Erdogan, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Kadri Gursel, Murat Sabuncu, Turhan Gunay, and Musa Kart, as well as the UN criminal judge Aydin Sefa Akay.
He urged the Turkish Government to release the individuals with whom he met as well as their colleagues and numerous others who are detained on similar charges throughout the country.
Others have been dismissed from universities and the media, measures that he said “are not only drastic and disproportionate, but lack any form of transparency.”
“As with media professionals,” he added, “the Government accuses people of serious crimes, but without presenting evidence, without due process and without any form of transparency.”
Mr. Kaye said that review mechanisms and functioning independent appeal systems are critical and also drew attention to attacks on the freedom of expression of Kurdish artists, media outlets, and academics.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country have also reported deterioration in their ability to work. 370 NGOs were suspended on 11 November. Meanwhile, civil society continues to face increased government control, censorship, and administrative pressures.
“Turkey has enjoyed a vibrant civil society, which the authorities have a duty to protect and promote,” the UN expert recalled.
“Civil society is any government’s ally in the promotion of stability and economic growth. It is with deep regret that I observe the severe measures taken by the authorities in the opposite direction,” he underscored.
The Government has blocked websites and networks, including mobile services, actions that the Special Rapporteur said were incompatible with international standards.
“Parliament should consider adopting legislation that would impose restrictions on the arbitrary power to block the Internet and mobile communications,” he said.
Mr. Kaye intends to continue to work with the Turkish Government in order to improve the legal and political environment for fundamental rights. He praised the country for maintaining a dialogue with various human rights mechanisms and thanked authorities for their willingness to engage in frank discussions.
The Special Rapporteur will prepare a report for the UN Human Rights Council on the findings of his visit as well as with recommendations on how to promote the right to freedom of expression in Turkey. Special Rapporteurs are independent human rights experts appointed by the Council to address specific situations or thematic issues around the world. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.