GENEVA/ANKARA, Nov. 18, 2016 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today expressed deep concern about widespread measures being used to erode independent opinion and expression in Turkey.
“Across the board, the Government is imposing draconian measures that limit freedom of expression,” said Mr. Kaye at the end of a one-week official mission to the country.
“The press, individuals online, artists, opposition voices and many others face unprecedented pressure, from censorship to outright detention. I urge 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.”
Mr. Kaye said that Turkey was facing a wide variety of threats, and he had particular sympathy for those who continued to feel the shock of the 15 July attempted coup, the deaths and injuries it caused, and its assault on Turkey’s democratic institutions.
He added: “There is no doubt that Turkey has a responsibility to protect the life of every person in the country and to ensure the continuation of democratic freedoms.”
“The Government raised its national security concerns with me, which are grounds for concern for any government. Yet the unjustified attacks on lawyers, judges, journalists, artists, academics and activists undermine security and generate polarization and long-term instability.”
The UN expert noted that the defence of life and protection of democratic institutions had to involve measures consistent with Turkey’s international obligations. He expressed grave concern that several laws – in particular the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Emergency Decrees, the criminalization of defamation of the President, and internet regulations – were imposing unnecessary and disproportionate attacks on freedom of expression, even in the context of a state of emergency.
During his visit he found that anti-terrorism laws were regularly being used as a basis to criminalize reporting and shut down all forms of media. He said the situation regarding freedom of expression was “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,” said Mr. Kaye.
The Special Rapporteur said it had been an honour during his visit to meet several people who had been detained over their work in the media. The meetings took place with the permission of the Ministry of Justice.
Five of the detainees he met, affiliated with Cumhuriyet newspaper, are being held at Silivri Prison in Istanbul: Hakan Karasınır, Bülent Utku, Güray Tekin Öz, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, and Onder Celik. He also met writer and activist Necmiye Alpay at Borokoy Women’s Prison in Istanbul and spoke to other detainees’ lawyers and associates.
Mr. Kaye said the Ministry of Justice had regrettably denied him access to eight other writers and journalists – Asli Erdogan, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Kadri Gursel, Murat Sabuncu, Turhan Gunay, Musa Kart, Guray Tekin- as well as UN criminal judge Aydin Sefa Akay.
“I urge the Government not only to release all of these individuals but to release their colleagues and others detained on similar charges throughout the country,” he said.
The UN expert voiced particular concern over the alarming number of dismissals from universities and in the media.
“The measures are not only drastic and disproportionate, but they lack any form of transparency,” he said. “As with media professionals, the Government accuses people of serious crimes, but without presenting evidence, without due process and without any form of transparency.”
He stressed the importance of establishing review mechanisms and functioning independent appeal systems.
Mr. Kaye also drew attention to the attacks on the right to freedom of expression of Kurdish artists, media outlets and academics.
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Non-Governmental organizations have reported a deterioration of the space for their work, including the suspension of 370 NGOs on 11 November 2016. Civil society continued to face increased government control, censorship and administrative pressures, he noted.
“Turkey has enjoyed a vibrant civil society, which the authorities have a duty to protect and promote,” Mr. Kaye said. “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.”
Referring to the blocking of websites and networks, including mobile services, the Special Rapporteur underscored that these measures were disproportionate and 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 stated.
Mr. Kaye concluded by underlining his intention to work further with the Turkish Government to improve the legal and political environment for fundamental rights.
“Turkey has maintained a good and open dialogue with various human rights mechanisms. I thank the authorities for their openness to engage in frank discussions and I look forward to exchanging information on my concerns,” he said.
The expert, who visited the country at the invitation of the Government of Turkey, will prepare a report to the Human Rights Council on the main findings of his visit and make recommendations on the promotion of the right to freedom of expression in the country. His visit included meetings with a number of national authorities as well as discussions with non-governmental organizations, journalists, artists, the media, detainees, activists and lawyers.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20891&LangID=E