The decision by Turkey’s parliament to approve a new internet law that tightens restrictions is a major blow to freedom of expression in Turkey. The European Union must make it clear that Turkey is jeopardising its membership talks with the Union if this law is promulgated.
Amendments to law 5651 allow the Turkish telecommunication authority to block sites without seeking a court order and forces internet service providers to store user data and browsing activity for two years. This reprehensible law calls into question Turkey’s commitment to democracy and a free and open society.
Detainees at a re-education camp in Xinjiang. Photo WeChat/Xinjiang Juridical Administration
“Serious human rights violations” have been committed in Xinjiang and the arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs “may constitute…crimes against humanity” according to a controversial UN report that the Chinese government has been trying to quash.
The report also concludes that allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, as well as allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence are “credible”.
What is also abundantly clear is that the report does not make mention of the word “genocide”, something that has left many campaigners unsatisfied.
The UN report goes so far as to push any mention of “suspicious deaths” occurring inside Xinjiang’s re-education centres into a footnote, saying that despite being presented with allegations on these by interviewees it had “not been possible to verify [them] to the requisite standard”. Restricting the ability of the UN to verify claims of human rights abuses is an effective method by which states, such as China, can effectively game the UN’s investigative process. By ensuring the body cannot access the evidence it needs, China can ostensibly shape what the UN can say without exerting any overt control or interference.
Last month it was revealed that the Chinese mission to the UN was lobbying to prevent the release of the report into human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The publication of the report, first commissioned in 2018, had been repeatedly delayed after having been completed in September 2021. Under tremendous pressure from other UN member states, the report was finally made available on 31 August in the last minutes of UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s term.
The release of the report has not been welcomed by the Chinese government. In its response to its publication, China’s mission to the UN said: “Based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces and out of presumption of guilt, the so-called ‘assessment’ distorts China’s laws and policies, wantonly smears and slanders China, and interferes in China’s internal affairs”.
The attempt to block the report’s publication may come as a shock to some but this incident is only the most recent attempt by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to silence Uyghurs both within and outside China and to discredit those who try to shine a light on their treatment. In the past, the UN has abdicated from its duty to challenge this global campaign against the Uyghurs. The publication of the report is a notable improvement on the UN’s poor track record. But the controversy surrounding the report’s release has left few critics of the UN optimistic about the ability of the organisation to defend Uyghurs in the future.
Michelle Bachelet meets Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2014, photo: Gobierno de Chile
The release of the Xinjiang report reflects a significant departure from the UN’s traditional soft-touch approach to managing its relationship with China. For example, earlier in 2022 Michelle Bachelet became the first UN High Commissioner to visit China in 17 years. While Bachelet praised China’s progress in labour standards and gender rights, she mentioned only in passing the treatment of Uyghurs, which according to credible reports, includes mass enslavement and systemic rape. Bachelet later admitted that her access to Uyghurs was severely restricted, ostensibly because of COVID-19 regulations, but to many her relative silence appeared to validate the Chinese government’s narrative surrounding events in Xinjiang. After her visit, The Global Times, a Chinese newspaper known for inevitably toeing the government line, ran an opinion piece praising Bachelet for changing her perspective on Xinjiang. The piece celebrated Bachelet’s adoption of CCP terminology – highlighting her use of “the term ‘Vocational Education and Training Centre’ instead of the so-called ‘re-education camp’” – and attributed her much-publicised decision not to run for a second term as High Commissioner to pressure she faced after speaking out in favour of China’s counter-terrorism measures.
Bachelet appeared to accept at face value claims that the re-education camps had “been dismantled” and appeared overly optimistic about “China’s stated aim of ensuring quality developed closely linked to developing the rule of law and respect for human rights”. While she expressed some half-hearted concern about the “lack of judicial oversight” in Xinjiang and mentioned Uyghurs she had met before her trip to China who had lost contact with their relatives, her condemnation of the treatment and mass detention of Uyghurs across the region was decidedly muted. Instead she praised China’s “tremendous achievements” in labour and gender rights, an insult to the victims of slave labour and sexual abuse in the camps. She concluded that “there is important work being done to advance gender equality, the rights of LGBTQI people or people with disabilities and all the people among other [groups]”.
China’s mission to the UN now says that the content of the report “is “entirely contradictory to the formal statement issued by [Bachelet]” following her visit. Just like the Global Times, China’s mission is falsely pointing to Bachelet’s Xinjiang trip as an exoneration of the CCP.
Bachelet herself emphasised that her visit “was not an investigation”, which begs the question why it happened in the first place. All her soft touch approach achieved was to grant the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a significant PR win.
UN whistleblower Emma Reilly
To understand why UN officials like Bachelet have traditionally been so cautious about criticising China, Index spoke to Emma Reilly (left), an Irish former human rights officer at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Reilly was fired in 2021 after blowing the whistle in 2017, revealing how the UN had for years been passing the names of Uyghurs set to testify before the UN to the Chinese government. Reilly explained to Index that Eric Tistounet from the OHCHR told concerned staff that “not giving them over would further Chinese distrust of the UN”.
One of the names on the list was Dolkun Isa who now resides in Germany. After the UN passed over his name to the Chinese authorities, his remaining family members who still resided in Xinjiang received a visit from the police. His parents later died in a re-education camp in circumstances that are still unclear. Reilly told Index that another person the UN exposed without their knowledge died upon their return to Xinjiang.
After the UN issued a medical report about Reilly, the Swiss police visited Reilly’s house and prevented her from attending a meeting about the issue she had exposed. In doing so, the UN effectively transformed the Swiss police into a tool of CCP censorship.
A tribunal was initiated to investigate Reilly’s case with the assistance of Rowan Downing QC, a former President of the UN Dispute Tribunal and an international war crimes judge. When it became clear that Downing’s ruling would not be favourable towards the UN, he was removed from his position. Downing compared this move to a coup.
Reilly told Index that the UN’s general reluctance to criticise the CCP is based on the misguided assumption that significant concessions need to be made to maintain a friendly relationship with the Chinese government. According to Reilly, it is commonly believed at the UN that increased engagement with the Chinese government will lead it to internalise global norms of human rights. But the opposite appears to be the case. In fact, the Chinese government has proven itself to be a powerful norm maker of its own as it becomes increasingly assertive in the UN.
Rosemary Foot’s book “China, the UN and Human Protection” seeks to explain the paradox of a China that is significantly more prominent in the UN system yet increasingly resistant to many of its central tenets. Most significantly, the Chinese government has sought to bolster the importance of sovereignty and undermine the universal nature of human rights.
For example, China had only used its security council veto power six times before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. It then used it seven times to block resolutions condemning the Assad regime. The Chinese government believes that the treatment of Syrians, Uyghurs and other groups should be treated as “internal affairs” and economic growth should be seen as the principal means of improving human rights. As Kenneth Roth, the former executive director of Human Rights Watch, recently wrote, “if Beijing had its way, human rights would be reduced to a measurement of growth in gross domestic product”.
In her discussion with Index, Reilly expressed dismay that her case had received the most attention from right-leaning outlets sceptical of the UN project. Other outlets tended to focus on the treatment of whistleblowers rather than the behaviour she was uncovering and the necessity of systemic reform. Like many other UN whistleblowers, Reilly remains committed to the UN project and wants it changed, not abandoned.
Disempowering the UN (like the Trump administration tried to do by making significant cuts after its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was rejected) will only empower the Chinese government to fill the vacuum. But the typical relationship the UN has had with the Chinese government swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. The UN must not allow itself to become a tool for China to censor its opponents but starving the UN of funds, undermining its mandate, and expecting it to reform is not a tenable solution that protects universal rights and targeted groups, including Uyghurs both in China and elsewhere.
Given the UN’s poor track record of endangering critics of the CCP, does the release of the Xinjiang report suggest the arrival of the kind of systemic reform that Reilly and others have called for?
Critics are sceptical that this recent development (while welcome) reflects a newly assertive United Nations. The next step would be for an independent investigation to be conducted into events in Xinjiang. Calls for such an investigation have also come from within the UN system after 50 UN human rights experts urged the Human Rights Council in 2020 to establish an independent UN mandate to monitor and report on human rights violations in China. According to the OHCHR’s own statement on this recommendation “unlike over 120 States, the Government of China has not issued a standing invitation to UN independent experts to conduct official visits.” However, two years later and progress has been glacial. Considering that the release of a report took almost three years once it was completed and was only possible after overwhelming pressure from other member states, any next step looks like an insurmountable challenge requiring consistent international solidarity and pressure at a time of growing international tension. The Chinese government cannot exert total influence over the UN to silence all of its critics but as demonstrated by the delays of the Xinjiang report, the UN process remains too easy for human rights abusers to impede.
Reilly remains critical of the UN. Now that the UN has officially recognised in its report that the CCP carries out “reprisals against Uyghur and other predominately Muslim minorities abroad in connection with their advocacy, and their family members in [Xinjiang]”, their continued smear campaign against her and refusal to condemn the policy she exposed is an increasingly untenable position.
There is also the question of how permanent the UN’s apparent change of strategy will be. It is notable that Bachelet only felt capable of releasing the report upon her departure from office when she would not have to face the consequences of her decision. Perhaps that now Bachelet is gone, her brief experiment with explicitly calling out the CCP’s human rights abuses will be replaced with business as usual.
Meanwhile, the global campaign to target Uyghurs both within and outside China continues. Earlier this year, Index published a landmark report examining how the CCP has externalised its censorship and intimidation of Uyghurs even to those who have managed to escape to Europe in search of freedom and security. As highlighted by Reilly’s brave decision to blow the whistle, the CCP will use every mechanism and lever at its disposal to enforce its propaganda and target its perceived adversaries. Even though they now reside in Europe, Uyghurs continue to receive threats as do their families still living in Xinjiang. This report highlighted the lengths the CCP would go to strengthen its narrative and censor those brave enough to speak out, irrespective of where they are. It also revealed the inadequate response of European states to respond to this threat. Without a robust response, the CCP is emboldened to continue exporting its message to other countries and through international bodies like the UN.
If the UN has only just reached the stage of officially recognising that this years long campaign is actually taking place, let alone taking active measures to stop it, who can Uyghurs rely on?
[Index made repeated requests to the United Nations for comment on this article but no replies were received at time of publication.]
BirGün journalists to stand trial for news coverage
30 August 2019 – Four journalists from BirGün daily — İbrahim Aydın, Barış İnce, Can Uğur and Bülent Yılmaz — were charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” in a new indictment. The accusation stems from the journalists’ reporting about posts from before the year 2016 by the Twitter account that used the pseudonym “Fuat Avni,” Bianet reported.
The 16-page indictment was recently accepted by the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which will be overseeing the case. The indictment claims that the newspaper’s reporting about “Fuat Avni” helped “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ/PDY)” in their attempts to manipulate public opinion.
UPDATE: Journalist Mehmet Baransu ordered to remain behind bars at end of 21st hearing
29 August 2019 – The trial of former executives of the shuttered Taraf daily and reporter Mehmet Baransu for allegedly publishing a secret military document called the “Egemen Operation Plan” resumed on 27 August 2019 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, P24 reported.
Baransu, the only jailed defendant in the case, who was brought to the courtroom from the Silivri Prison accompanied by gendarmerie, continued presenting his defense statement on the first day of the hearing, which was planned to continue for three days.
Taraf’s former executives Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur were not in attendance because they are exempt from personal appearance in court. The hearing scheduled for 28 August did not take place because the court failed to send a summons to the Silivri Prison for Baransu to be brought to the courthouse.
Baransu continued making his defense statement on the third day of the hearing on 29 August. In its interim ruling at the end of that hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Mehmet Baransu’s detention on remand on the grounds of “the nature and type of the alleged crime” and because he “has still not completed his defense statement.” The court set 10-11-12 December 2019 as the dates for the next hearing.
29 August 2019 – Ümit Uzun, a reporter for Demirören News Agency (DHA), was taken into custody in Istanbul as he was covering a news story for the agency.
Uzun was arrested and handcuffed behind his back as he was interviewing the owner of a store in the Gaziosmanpaşa district, where a car crashed into. The grounds for Uzun’s arrest was “disrupting the scene of the accident.” Uzun was released after interrogation. After being released, the journalist filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office about the officers who arrested him.
Local reporter injured by gunshot in Turkey’s Balıkesir
29 August 2019 – A local reporter in Turkey’s western town of Balıkesir was wounded by a gunshot on his foot fired by two unidentified assailants in front of his home in the early hours of 29 August.
Levent Uysal, who was the owner and publisher of the local newspaper Balıkesir Yenigün which recently closed down due to economic reasons, was taken to the hospital following the attack.
Uysal said the assault occurred around 1 a.m. at night. Two unidentified people wearing helmets approached him to ask for an address and fired six gunshots before taking off on motorcycles, he said.
The journalist said the police had obtained footage showing the assailants performing surveillance nearby his house a few days ahead of the attack. He added that he thought the attack was organized. “I’m not involved in any vendettas or inheritance dispute. I’ve recently made reports that disturbed and disfavored some [individuals],” he told local media according to DW Turkish. “I think that [the assailants] were instigated by them,” he said requesting from officials a thorough investigation into the case.
Uysal explained his reports were looking to shed light on the favors granted by high officials of the Balıkesir Metropolitan Municipality to their relatives as well as the establishment of new cliques in local institutions. “Questioning and monitoring those who work to serve the public is my task. If [my reports] contain errors or slanders I am ready to be held accountable of it,” he said. No trial or criminal investigation was launched for his reporting so far, Uysal said.
He also said he had to stop printing his newspaper and added that it was impossible for local media to survive without the support of local institutions.
The attack against Uysal came after a wave of attacks targeting journalists, including local reporters, during a heated local elections campaign. The attack was condemned by Balıkesir Journalists’ Association, Reporters Without Borders and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.
UPDATE: Journalists arrested in Mardin released after police interrogation
26 August 2019 – Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporters Ahmet Kanbal and Mehmet Şah Oruç, JinNews reporter Rojda Aydın and journalists Nurcan Yalçın and Halime Parlak, who were arrested in Mardin on 20 August 2019, were released late on 26 August after giving their statements at the Mardin Police Department, Mezoptamya news agency reported.
All five journalists were arrested as they were covering demonstrations in Mardin in protest of the government’s recent removal of the mayors of Mardin, Diyarbakır and Van from office. They were held in custody for six days before being released. During police interrogation, all five were asked what they were doing on the scene of the protests. Oruç said after they were released that they were handcuffed behind their back while they were being arrested. The journalists also said in a statement that they were subjected to strip searches at the police department.
Reporter Yelda Özbek, who was arrested the same day in Diyarbakır, was released from custody on 21 August. The detention period of the five journalists under arrest in Mardin was extended for four more days on 23 August.
UPDATE: Journalists arrested in Diyarbakır released after seven days in custody
26 August 2019 – Tümen Anlı, the press and media relations officer for the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), and Vedat Dağ, the press relations officer for the Diyarbakır branch of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) were released under judicial control measures by a court on 26 August after spending seven days in custody. They were both arrested as part of operations on the heels of the government’s removal of the mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van from office late on 18 August.
Dağ said all 16 questions he was asked during his interrogation at the police department were about why he attended press statements by the HDP. Ziyan Karahan, an editor for the Mezopotamya news agency who was arrested as part of the same operation, was released on 22 August. Anlı and Dağ’s custody period was extended until 26 August.
Evrensel writer Ayşegül Tözeren released kept three days in custody
23 August 2019 – Ayşegül Tözeren, a medical doctor, writer, literary critic and a columnist for Evrensel daily, was taken into custody on 20 August 2019 during a midnight police raid on her Istanbul home.
The raid was conducted on the grounds of an anonymous “tip-off,” daily Evrensel reported. Tözeren was barred from seeing her lawyer during the first 24-hour period of her detention.
After having been held in custody for three days, Tözeren was brought to the Istanbul Courthouse on 23 August. The prosecutor investigating her file referred her to court for release under judicial control measures, without taking her statement. The 4th Istanbul Criminal Judgeship of Peace ruled to release Tözeren under an international travel ban. The court minutes showed that Tözeren is a suspect in an ongoing investigation launched for “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Two journalists briefly arrested in relation with protests, charged by court
23 August 2019 – Taylan Özgür Öztaş, a reporter for Özgür Gelecek newspaper, was arrested on 22 August 2019 in a midnight police raid on his home in Istanbul, P24 reported. He was arrested based on the claim that he took part in a demonstration on 20 August in Kadıköy in protest of the government-appointed trustees of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van.
Another Istanbul-based journalist, Tunahan Turhan, a reporter for the Etkin news agency (ETHA), was also taken into custody in Istanbul on 22 August. Turhan was detained following a criminal record check by the police in Kadıköy. The reporter was in Kadıköy to cover a demonstration by the HDP’s local branch in protest of the removal of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van mayors from office.
Both Öztaş and Turhan were brought to the Anatolian Courthouse on Istanbul’s Asian side on 23 August. There, they first gave their statements to a prosecutor, who referred both journalists to a court for release. The court released both journalists under judicial control measures.
Journalist and video activist Oktay İnce briefly detained in İzmir
22 August 2019 – Oktay İnce, a member of the video activist collective Seyri Sokak, was taken into custody on 22 August in Izmir, online news website Gazete Duvar reported. He was arrested along with 26 lawyers from the Izmir Bar Association as he was covering the lawyers’ press statement protesting the removal of Mardin, Diyarbakır and Van mayors from office.
İnce was taken to the Izmir Police Department. He was released the same day after giving his giving his statement at the police department.
Six journalists arrested while covering protests against government
20 August 2019 – Six journalists were arrested on 20 Auguıst 2019 in Mardin and Diyarbakır as they were covering public demonstrations in both cities in protest of the government’s recent removal of the mayors of Mardin, Diyarbakır and Van from office.
Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporters Ahmet Kanbal and Mehmet Şah Oruç, Jinnews reporter Rojda Aydın and journalists Nurcan Yalçın and Halime Parlak were arrested in Mardin while reporter Yelda Özbek was arrested in Diyarbakır.
Police dispersed the crowds who gathered in front of Diyarbakır and Mardin municipalities. The reporters were arrested as they were taking pictures of the protesting crowds.
Four journalists arrested in Diyarbakır during police operations
19 August 2019 – Four journalists were taken into custody o9 in Diyarbakır as part of sweeping operations across several cities. The operations followed immediately on the heels of the removal of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van mayors from office late on 18 August by the government, which appointed trustees to run these three cities.
The Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reported on Monday that Ziyan Karahan, an editor for the agency’s Kurdish edition, was arrested during a raid on her home in Diyarbakır as part of the operations. MA said Karahan was brought to the Diyarbakır Police Department’s anti-terror branch. The grounds for Karahan’s arrest were not immediately disclosed.
Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) Diyarbakır representative Mahmut Oral told P24 that journalist Tümen Anlı, the press and media relations officer for the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Vedat Dağ, the press relations officer for the Diyarbakır branch of People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and Özgür Ülke, the press relations officer for the local Bismil Municipality, were also taken into custody during Monday’s raids.
The four journalists were among a total of 418 individuals, who also included local HDP politicians and municipal employees, arrested as part of the operations that took place in the early hours of Monday.
20 August 2019 – Journalist Ergin Çağlar, a Mersin-based reporter for Mezopotamya news agency, was arrested on 16 August 2019 at the Mersin Courthouse where he had gone to give his statement as part of an ongoing criminal investigation against him. He was released under judicial control measures by a Mersin court on 20 August after spending four days in custody, Mezopotamya news agency reported.
Çağlar’s apartment in Mersin was raided on 14 August as part of an investigation by the Mersin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which had also issued an arrest warrant for the journalist.
Çağlar was brought to the Mersin Police Department for interrogation after being arrested at the Mersin Courthouse. The journalist is charged with “membership in a terrorist group” and a confidentiality order was in place concerning the investigation.
9 August 2019 – Cebrail Arslan, a reporter for the Pir News Agency (PİRHA) was arrested on 8 August 2019 along with five other people during a raid on his home in Ankara, online news website Gazete Karınca reported.
Arslan and the five other people were released one day after giving their statement. News reports said the six people were questioned in relation to their involvement in protests, called “White Flag,” against the military operations and curfews in civilian areas of the Southeast in 2016,
8 August 2019 – A court in the eastern province of Van ruled to keep imprisoned journalist İdris Yılmaz in pre-trial detention, online news website Artı Gerçek reported. The hearing was the first one after two separate cases where he is charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” were merged.
Yılmaz was previously sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison but his sentence was overturned by an appellate court, which ordered re-trial. This case was then merged with another ongoing one in which Yılmaz is again charged with “membership of a terrorist organization.” Yılmaz attended the court hearing via court video-conferencing system from a prison in Elazığ further west, where he is held since his arrest.
The court ruled for Yılmaz’s continued pre-trial detention at the end of the hearing and adjourned the trial until 27 September.
Court blocks access to 135 web sources, including Gazete Fersude and ETHA
7 August 2019 – The Ankara 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace has ruled for access to a total of 136 websites, web pages and social media accounts.
Among the websites blocked by the decision are those of news portal Gazete Fersude and Etkin News Agency (ETHA). The website geziyisavunuyoruz.org, which follows the trial of Osman Kavala and 15 others facing the charge of “attempting the overthrow the government” for their involvement in the Gezi protests, is also among those that were blocked for allegedly violating Turkey’s Internet law.
The ruling dated 16 July 2019 was rendered in response to a complaint submitted on the same day by the Gendarmerie Command which claimed that the mentioned sites violated Article 8/A of the Law No. 5651, which covers online publication and cyber-crimes.
The law allows judges to order removal of content or block access on one or more of the following grounds: to protect the right of life or security of life and property, to protect national security and public order, to prevent the commission of a crime, or to protect public health.
The ruling to block access to ETHA’s website etha10.com.tr, geziyisavunuyoruz.org and Gazete Fersude’s website gazetefersude.com was implemented following the decision of the Ankara 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace. Among the 136 Internet sources that the court ordered banned are websites and social media accounts including numerous Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and Pinterest pages.
Details pertaining to the court decision that were obtained by bianet’s lawyer later revealed that bianet.org was erroneously included in the list of URLs to be blocked, although decision remains in effect for 135 other web addresses. Court documents obtained on 7 August by lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu showed that the complainant Gendarmerie Command had applied to the Ankara 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace on 17 July, stating that bianet.org was erroneously included in the list and requesting that the court decision be revised accordingly. The court, in response, issued a decision saying the order to block access to bianet.org was removed while the decision remains valid for the remaining 135 web URLs.
Regulation bringing online broadcasting under TV watchdog’s control goes into effect
1 August 2019 – A regulation that gives Turkey’s radio and television watchdog RTÜK tha authority to supervise content streamed online formally went into effect upon its publication in the Official Gazette.
The regulation, which raised concerns over possible censorship, makes it mandatory for online media content providers to obtain broadcasting licenses and permits from RTÜK, in return for significant sums. It also allows RTÜK to supervise content provided by them and introduce sanctions in case of non-compliance with broadcasting principles.
Streaming platforms like Netflix, local streaming platforms PuhuTV and BluTV will now be subject to RTÜK supervision and potential fines or loss of their license.
In addition to subscription services like Netflix, free online news outlets will also be subject to the same measures. Providers will be required to pay TL 10,000 (around $ 1,800) to get a license to provide radio services while TV and subscription-based service providers will need to pay TL 100,000 (around $ 18,000).
Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor and a cyber rights specialist, said access to the Netflix platform or to news outlets broadcasting from abroad could be blocked. Akdeniz also commented that media outlets such as Turkish services of the BBC or Deutsche Welle, which have emerged as sources of news not subject to government control over the past years, were possible intended targets of the regulation.
Kerem Altıparmak, a human rights lawyer, said the move was the “biggest step in Turkish censorship history” and said all outlets producing opposition news would be affected. “Everyone who produces alternative news and broadcasts will be impacted by this regulation,” Altıparmak wrote on Twitter. “Every news report that can be against the government will be taken under control.”
Source of violation: Government / State Agency / Public official(s) / Political party
Online news websites T24 and Diken face terrorism investigation
1 August 2019 – The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against a group of media outlets, including independent news websites T24 and Diken, on the charge of “supporting a terrorist group without being its member.” Both websites are under scrutiny for reporting on Twitter posts of an anonymous account called “Fuat Avni” nearly five years ago.
T24 reported that the investigation was subject to a confidentiality order and that it was not clear what media outlets other than T24 and Diken were involved. It said editors and executives of T24 who worked there in 2014-2016 were summoned by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to give statements as part of the investigation.
Those summoned were asked questions on why they reported on “Fuat Avni” tweets, who prepared the reports and whether they had received any instructions to report on the tweets.
The account under the “Fuat Avni” nickname, which has since been deactivated, shared alleged inside information on secret dealings of then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government members.
30 July 2019 — Oksana Sokolova, a ICTV TV channel presenter, reported being followed by unknown persons, the Institute of Mass Information reported.
“Am I Being followed again? Recently, I noticed that every time I have a meeting at a cafe, a young man is seated at a nearby table and looks intently at the phone screen without ordering anything,” Sokolova was quoted as saying on the ICTV Facebook page. She said that she would not have paid attention to these situations if she hadn’t been trailed in the past. Sokolova was forced to take a personal guard due to phone threats in 2014. A criminal case was opened by the police and the individual making threats was identified.
“I didn’t think I would have to contact the authorities again,” the TV presenter said about the latest incidents. She told ICTV that the individuals following her in recently have all been different but they behave in the same way.
Sokolova said she intends to file a complaint with the police.
23 July 2019 — Pechersk District Court of Kyiv blocked access to Enigma.ua, a blogging platform and nearly 20 other websites, according to Detector Media.
In a statement, Enigma.ua, the site was blocked because of a published article that explored the connections between law enforcement and organised crime groups in targeting human rights defenders in the country. The court made its decision after a motion by prosecutors who are investigating a criminal case which the article addressed.
“We have already appealed to the lawyers and through court we will overturn this ruling and demand penalties for those who choose to block sites through a criminal case that has nothing to do with the resources and their owners,” said in a statement of Enigma.ua.
UPDATE: 2 August 2019 — An appeal was filed against the decision of the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv to block 18 information sites, IMI reported.
The interests of Enigma.ua website owner Volodymyr Pasika are represented by media lawyer Olexandr Burmahin, who is also the Human Rights Platform executive director. Digital Security Lab lawyers also joined to prepare the legal position in the case.
Burmahin said blocking of websites was a very dangerous precedent for freedom of speech and the dissemination of information online.
Source of violation: Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party
Politician sues Novoe Vremya weekly magazine
30 July 2019 — Politician Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of the political party Opposition Platform – For Life, sued Novoe Vremya weekly magazine, NV.ua reported.
The case of “protection of honour, dignity and business reputation and refutation of false information” will be considered by the Podil district court of Kyiv. The editorial board said it doesn’t have information which article prompted the politicians lawsuit.
Source of violation: Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party
Press center attacked by far right activists, five people injured
30 July 2019 — About a dozen right-wing activists from Tradition and Order, a nationalist group, assaulted participants of a press conference and press center staff at the news agency Ukrinform in Kyiv, Hromadske reported.
The press conference was held by Serhiy Koshukov and Andriy Aksyonov, who are running for deputies in a single-member constituency number 50. At the beginning of the press conference, Koshukov said that about 500 votes had been stolen from him at the previous parliamentary election. After that, the press conference was interrupted by the attackers.
According to Interfax-Ukraine news agency, more than 10 people wearing t-shirts with “Tradition and Order” logos broke into the room. They smashed the glass in the room, broke the door, threw eggs at the press conference participants, poured water on those present at the press center, shouted “Down with the separatist Aksyonov.”
The far-rightists accused Aksyonov of being a citizen of the Russian Federation. Aksenov, in turn, claimed that he never had a Russian passport.
The police arrived about 20 minutes after the beginning of the assault. But the officers didn’t take any action, only observed what was happening, Interfax-Ukraine reported. In the presence of the police, the right-wing activists threw eggs at Aksyonov and unscrewed microphones. After that they left the premises shouting “Put Aksenov behind bars” and “Shame”. A police officer tried to draw up a protocol against one of them, but in response the far-rightist insulted the police and left.
According to the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, five news agency employees asked for medical help as a result of the attack. Ukrinform employee Roman Hrabrov was assaulted from behind and roughly grabbed by the shoulder. Three far-rightists simultaneously assaulted press center employee Pavlo Negrey, beating him on his legs, back, face, head, and choking him. The assault left him with a trauma of his left eye and numerous bruises all over his body.
The names of other news agency staff affected by the attack were not disclosed.
According to preliminary estimates, material damage to Ukrinform press center exceeded 17,500 euro.
The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine condemned the brutal attack on the staff of the leading news agency, and demanded severe punishment for the assaulters.
UPDATE: 1 August 2019 — The Kyiv police called the incident at Ukrinform “hooliganism”, IMI reported. On 30 July two of the invaders were taken into police custody to testify. The police also took the records from the CCTV cameras, the National Police reported.
UPDATE: 2 August 2019 — President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said it was necessary to investigate and severely punish the people who took part in the assault on Ukrinform.
Categories:Physical Assault/Injury, Attack to Property
Source of violation: Unknown,
The Revizor cameraman assaulted
18 July 2019 — A cameraman working for The Revizor, a Noviy TV channel program, was assaulted by an unidentified person at the marketplace in Koblevo Mykolaiv region, IMI reported.
According to the police, the conflict arose between market traders and the TV crew during the filming. A man, dissatisfied with the fact that he was filmed, hit the cameraman in the face. The journalist, whose name wasn’t reported, fell to the ground, but after a medical examination, he refused to be hospitalized.
The police opened a criminal investigation under the articles “obstruction of journalists’ legal activities.”
The Revizor (auditor) – a teleproject on unexpected product quality checks.
TV building attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade
13 July 2019 – The main office of TV Channel 112 was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) in Kyiv around 3 am, the National Police reported.
The police were called to the scene at 3:40 am and discovered that the office building’s exterior had been damaged by an explosion. They found a grenade launcher at the scene. No fatalities or injuries had been reported, but the police classified the incident as an act of terrorism. They did not report having any suspects at the time.
According to TV Channel 112, the building’s security cameras recorded two unknown individuals at the scene of the attack. Kyiv police said they launched a search operation for the offenders.
A day before the attack Channel 112’s editorial board issued a statement calling on law enforcement agencies to protect them from “the arbitrariness of national radicals, who by intimidation and threats try to influence the editorial policy of the channel [and] force us to abandon world-wide broadcasting standards in favor of certain political interests”. The journalists reported receiving threats from right-wing organisations “recommending” that they stay at home on 13 July under threats of physical violence. A nationalist rally against the channel’s editorial policy was scheduled for 13 July.
Immediately after the attack, Channel 112 CEO Yehor Benkendorf appealed to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to condemn the incident. “You must state clearly and decisively that no one should use force against media in Ukraine,” Benkendorf said.
Channel 112 received a warning earlier last week from prosecutors over its plans to broadcast a documentary titled Revealing Ukraine by US filmmaker Oliver Stone, which included an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They linked the attack to the scheduled broadcast, and cancelled it, citing the decision of their international editorial board.
Channel 112 has come under pressure from nationalist groups since it was purchased last year by Taras Kozak, a close ally of controversial Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, often criticised for his pro-Russian views and ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of his daughter. Kozak also owns the NewsOne and ZIK TV channels.
8 July 2019 – Kirill Malyshev, Strana.ua news online outlet correspondent, was assaulted by nationalists during protest rally near News One TV channel building in Kyiv, Strana.ua reported.
According to the journalist, the leader of C14 far-right group Yevhen Karas began to shout: “Here is a separatist! He is a Strana’s journalist.”
“Immediately afterwards, the protesters tried to attack me. But other activists defended me. Focus magazine’s journalist also stood up for me. This allowed me to gain time, and [during the] dialogue police brought me out of the crowd,” Malyshev said. Police officers then asked him to leave the rally “to avoid provocations.”
On 8 July nationalists protested against holding a teleconference with the Russian federal TV channel “Russia-24”. The rally was attended by right-wing organisations the National Guard, the National Corps and C14.
8 July 2019 — NewsOne TV channel’s journalists and their families received threats of physical violence after the announcement of a teleconference with the Russian state television channel Russia 24, NewsOne TV channel reported.
“The channel planned to organise the first non-political teleconference between people from Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, we believe that such actions against the TV channel return Ukraine in times of intimidation and pressure on journalistic freedoms,” NewsOne website stated. According to the statement, the TV channel cancelled the teleconference due to pressure on the channel.
On 8 July, right-wing radicals held a protest rally near the channel’s offices in opposition to the teleconference. The rally was attended by right-wing organisations the National Guard, the National Corps and C14. The editorial board of the channel regarded the action as pressure on its editorial independence.
On 8 July, the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky criticised the holding of a teleconference, calling it “a PR campaign before the election.” The general prosecutor’s office of Ukraine filed a proceeding on an attempt to commit a state betrayal by providing information support to subversion against Ukraine. The head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Ivan Bakanov, stated that he considers it absolutely unacceptable to organise a teleconference with “the main propaganda channel of the aggressor country.”
Source of violation: Unknown, Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party
Online news outlet journalist assaulted
2 July 2019 — Vladislav Bovtruk, an online news outlet Strana.ua journalist, was assaulted by nationalist activist Olexiy Tsymbalyuk during protest rally on Independence Square in Kyiv, Strana.ua reported.
The protest meeting was organised by associates of the ex-president Poroshenko and nationalists against registering politicians who are considered “pro-Russian” to take part in parliamentary elections.
According to Strana.ua, the journalist was hit in the face by one of the protesters. “The blow was so strong that I fell to the ground. After that, already lying down, they continued to kick me. I got up, and they poured water on me and started shouting ‘Have you enough? Do you want us to add?’. At that moment the police came and led me out of the crowd,” Bovtruk said. He filed a complaint with the police about the incident.
Later, the outlet reported that the assaulter was called Tsymbalyuk, who participated in the staged murder hoax of journalist and blogger Arkady Babchenko in 2018.
Head of the National Union of Journalists Serhiy Tomilenko commented that any meetings and political actions should be open to journalists of all media. “This aggression becomes possible, because in Ukrainian society a stereotype has been gained over the years – a journalist is a defenseless victim, an attack on him goes unpunished. We hope that the police will have enough professionalism to conduct an investigation,” Tomilenko said.
On 3 July, the police opened a criminal case into the attack on the journalist.