[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”104240″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]On 6 December 2018, Index on Censorship joined eight partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists to conduct a press freedom solidarity mission to Slovakia to call for full justice in the case of assassinated journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, who were murdered on 21 February 2018.
The delegation – from the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited, Index on Censorship, International News Safety Institute (INSI), International Press Institute (IPI), PEN International, Rory Peck Trust, along with representatives from the Council of Europe’s Platform for the promotion of journalism and the safety of Journalists – met with officials of the Interior Ministry and the Presidium of the Police Force to monitor the progress of the investigation into the assassination.
The delegation welcomed the arrest of four individuals in relation to the assassination but stressed the urgent need for all those who commissioned the assassination to be brought to justice. Authorities assured that the investigators are “rigorously pursuing all lines of inquiry to establish who ordered the assassination.”The delegation notes that personnel changes within the police in the aftermath of the assassination are widely seen in Slovakia as having strengthened the investigation.
The delegation asked for clarification from the authorities as to why an assessment was made that the threats which Ján Kuciak reported to the police prior to his assassination were not considered serious enough to warrant an investigation. The delegation stressed that unless systematic changes – at a legal and policy level – are introduced which ensure the safety of journalists and their sources, journalists in Slovakia will continue to be vulnerable. The delegation urged that current, internal discussions within the Ministry of Culture on legislation relating to the press should lead to measures that materially strengthen the legal framework for the protection of journalists.
The delegation also raised serious concern about recent remarks made by former Prime Minister Robert Fico in November 2018 in which he said in Slovak that journalists should be “hit… very hard.” Such anti-media rhetoric from those in high office is particularly alarming in the aftermath of the assassination of an investigative journalist, and partners regard such language from a leading politician as unacceptable. Of further concern was the forced confiscation by police on 16 May 2018 of the phone of Pavla Holcová, a Czech journalist who worked with Ján Kuciak, 
The delegation also visited the office of Aktuality.sk to learn more about the climate for press freedom and the safety of journalists in Slovakia following Kuciak’s assassination. Peter Bárdy, editor of Aktuality, said that while prior to Kuciak’s assassination “investigative journalists felt invincible, now we are much more cautious.” Finally, the delegation laid tributes at the memorial for Kuciak and Kušnírová in central Bratislava.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1544455964701-0e98b920-6b51-5″ taxonomies=”6564, 8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Turkey should immediately implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and release the veteran journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay without delay, a coalition of nongovernmental groups said on 23 March 2018. Furthermore, Turkey must ensure that domestic remedies for human rights violations are effective, in particular by ensuring the urgent review of all cases of journalists and writers currently pending before its Constitutional Court.
The organizations, which had intervened as third parties in the cases before the court, included PEN International, ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, European Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, International Press Institute, International Senior Lawyers Project and Reporters Without Borders. The coalition welcomed the judgments announced on March 20, 2018. The rulings are the first by the court in the cases of journalists arrested and detained on charges in relation to the failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. They set an important precedent for the other cases of 154 detained journalists in Turkey.
“The Turkish government must take action to implement the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement. The ongoing trials are a serious breach of human rights and freedom of expression by the government. Turkey must cease its judicial harassment of journalists, academics and lawyers,” said Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy of Index on Censorship said.
In its two judgments, the European Court found violations of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression. The court made clear that criticism of governments should not attract criminal charges since, in addition to pre-trial detention, this would inevitably have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and would silence dissenting voices.
“We welcome these rulings, in particular the European Court’s recognition that a state of emergency must not be abused as a pretext for limiting freedom of expression,” said Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International.
While acknowledging the threat posed to Turkey by the attempted coup, the court crucially noted that “the existence of a ‘public emergency threatening the life of the nation’ must not serve as a pretext for limiting freedom of political debate, which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”
The European Court has also found that the journalists’ detention was unlawful under the right to liberty protected by Article 5 (1) of the European Convention. The European Court endorsed the January 2018 ruling of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which held that there was not sufficient evidence to keep the defendants in detention and ordered their release.
The judgment further sharply criticized the lower courts for refusing to carry out the Constitutional Court’s decision. In particular, the applicants’ continued pre-trial detention raised serious doubts as to the ability of the domestic legal system in providing an effective remedy for human rights violations, stating: “For another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications runs counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty.”
“We welcome the court’s finding that the right to liberty of the applicants was violated,” said Caroline Stockford, Turkey Advocacy Coordinator for the International Press Institute. “The Court rightly criticised the refusal by the lower domestic courts to implement the Turkish Constitutional Court’s decisions and to release Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay.”
The European Court decided not to examine the applicants’ complaint that the detention of the applicants was politically motivated, under Article 18 of the convention.
“In deciding not to rule on Article 18, the European Court dodges an important question at the core of this litigation, which is whether Turkey’s prosecutions of journalists just for doing their work is part of a larger campaign to crack down on independent journalism?”, said Torner.
“The decision stated that ‘the investigating authorities had been unable to demonstrate any factual basis’that indicate that both journalists had committed the offenses with which he was charged’. The Court repeats what we have been saying with our affiliates for years to Turkish authorities that journalism is not a crime and journalists, like writers or academicians in the country, must not be prosecuted for their work or opinions,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ General Secretary.
What the judgments mean for other cases
The judgments contain some important statements of principle on unlawful detention and freedom of expression. In particular, the European Court emphasised that it is not permissible to prosecute individuals on the basis of expression that is critical of the government.
However, in practice, the judgments also imply that the European Court will wait for the Constitutional Court to rule on the other pending cases of Turkish journalists before proceeding to its own review. This is because the European Court still considers the Constitutional Court an effective remedy in general.
Although the European Court was prepared to accept the length of time the Constitutional Court took to review these cases, the judgment is effectively putting the Constitutional Court on notice, saying that it will keep the situation under review and that it cannot continue taking this long to decide on cases.
The coalition repeats its call for the immediate implementation of these two judgments and for the release of Mehmet Altan from prison and Şahin Alpay from house arrest.
“These judgments are an important affirmation of the right to free expression and clearly state that the state of emergency is not a good enough reason to hold journalists and writers in detention for what they say,” said Gabrielle Guillemin, Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19. “The Turkish authorities must now immediately release them both and the Turkish courts should apply these principles to the many other cases of detained journalists in Turkey,” she added.
A delegation of international civil society organisations visited Istanbul to demonstrate solidarity with writers, journalists and media outlets in Turkey.
The failed coup of 15 July, in which at least 265 people were killed, has traumatised the Turkish population and the government must bring those responsible for the violence to account. However, this must be done on the basis of specific, individual evidence of involvement in a crime and with full respect for international standards on the right to freedom of expression, the right to liberty and security and the right to a fair trial, to which Turkey has committed as a member of the Council of Europe.
The delegation condemns the Turkish authorities’ abuse of the state of emergency to suppress diversity and dissent, and calls upon the government to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained in Turkey without evidence and to cease its harassment of the few remaining independent and opposition media outlets.
The mission led by ARTICLE 19, included representatives from Danish PEN, the European Federation of Journalists, German PEN, Index on Censorship, My Media, the Norwegian Press Association, the Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian PEN, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders and Wales PEN Cymru. The representatives were in Turkey from 31 August to 2 September.
Meetings with journalists, representatives of media outlets, lawyers and human rights advocates undertaken during the mission give cause for alarm.
Dissenting voices have long been stifled in Turkey; however, the state of emergency, introduced in response to the failed coup attempt of 15 July, is now being used to legitimise an unprecedented crackdown on independent and opposition media.
Under the state of emergency decrees, an individual may be detained for up to 30 days without charges. This provision is being abused to arbitrarily detain journalists of diverse backgrounds and affiliations. As the mission departed Turkey, local media rights advocate, Punto 24, estimated that 114 journalists were in detention. At least 15 journalists were detained during the three days the delegates spent in Turkey.
Detention purely on the grounds of affiliation with the Gülenist movement, accused of being behind the coup, is in itself problematic, occurring without any individualised evidence of involvement in a criminal act. Moreover, the decree is also being used to arbitrarily detain journalists with absolutely no link to the Gülenist movement, including many representatives from opposition and minority groups.
Those detained are held for several days without charge, often without access to a lawyer or their family. There are worrying reports of poor conditions in detention, including beatings, severe overcrowding and a lack of access to essential medicines.
While a few independent media outlets continue to publish, this has created an atmosphere of pervasive self-censorship, depriving the population of free and diverse debate at a time when this is critically needed.
The state of emergency must not be abused to suppress freedom of expression. We call upon Turkey to demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles and to support full and broad public debate, by immediately and unconditionally releasing those held without evidence, and ceasing its harassment of independent media.
European Federation of Journalists
Index on Censorship
Norwegian Press Association
Norwegian Union of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
Wales PEN Cymru
The President of the European Council
General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 175
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights
Elmar Brok, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament
Dear President Tusk,
We, the undersigned press freedom and media organisations, are writing ahead of the upcoming meeting between EU leaders and Ahmet Davutoğlu, Prime Minister of Turkey, to express our concern over the collapse of media freedom in Turkey.
In the past six months, we have recorded 50 incidents in clear breach of international standards with regards to media freedom and pluralism in the country. These violations include the recent government takeovers of the Feza media group and the Koza İpek Group; the prosecution and jailing of daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül on politically motivated charges of terrorism, espionage and revealing classified information; the police raids of Bugün TV; the assault of journalist Ahmet Hakan; and the blocking of Dicle News Agency’s website.
Many of these violations took place against the backdrop of the migration and refugee crisis or are related to reporting on sensitive issues such as the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or Turkey’s security operations in the south. Hence we believe the Council has the mandate to address these violations during the specific working session on EU-Turkey cooperation.
This mandate stems from the Council’s commitment to the rights to freedom of expression including freedom of the press, which was reaffirmed when adopting the EU Human Rights Guidelines on “freedom of expression online and offline” on 12 May 2014. By doing so, the Council pledged that “through its external policy instruments, the EU intends to help address and prevent violations of these rights in a timely, consistent and coherent manner.”
The guidelines also state that “all appropriate EU external financial instruments should be used to further protect and promote freedom of opinion and expression online as well as offline.”
While we welcome the fact that you discussed the situation of the media in Turkey with Prime Minister Davutoğlu last week, we believe the EU must not reach a deal without a specific conditionality clause that requires Turkey to improve the environment for freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
When meeting Prime Minister Davutoğlu on 18 March 2016, you have the unique opportunity to not only discuss the press freedom situation in Turkey, but to bring forth concrete measures that Turkey ought to take in order to start reversing its unrelenting crackdown on the media. Without taking these measures Ankara cannot and must not be considered a trustful strategic partner for the European Union. Specifically, we ask that you make any EU-Turkey agreement conditional on the release of the more than dozen journalists currently jailed for their work; the immediate return of the media outlets belonging to the Feza and Koza İpek groups to their rightful owners and editorial boards; and the abandonment of Turkey’s official practice of using vague anti-terror laws to equate press coverage with criminal activity.
At a time when the very essence of the European Union is questioned, it is critical to show unity and coherence over one of its core foundations: human rights, and in particular freedom of opinion and expression, which are fundamental elements of democracy.
Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, Article 19
William Horsley, Vice President and Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
Jo Glanville, Director, English Pen
Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, President, European Federation of Journalists
Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director, International Press Institute
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christophe Deloire, Executive Director, Reporters Without Borders
Deborah Bonetti, President, Foreign Press Association in London