International organisations condemn crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey

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.

State of Emergency in Turkey: the impact on Freedom of the Media

Mission report.

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.  

Supporting organisations

Danish PEN
European Federation of Journalists
German PEN
Index on Censorship
My Media
Norwegian Press Association
Norwegian Union of Journalists
Norwegian PEN
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Wales PEN Cymru

Recent Index coverage of Turkey:

Kaya Genç: “This is your future … if your generation does not fight for it, it will be a disastrous one”

Charges must be dropped in high-profile trial of journalists following failed coup

Turkey is losing the rule of law

Ece Temelkuran: Turkey’s drive to make theatre “suitable”

Turkey’s continuing crackdown on the press must end

Index awarded prestigious Kesten prize

kesten-prize-index-on-censorshipIndex on Censorship was in Darmstadt, Germany, last week to receive the prestigious Hermann Kesten literary prize from German PEN.

The prize is given in honour of Hermann Kesten, the German novelist, who left Germany for Paris in 1933. From Paris, Kesten helped exiled and banned writers get published.

Previous recipients of the prize include Gunter Grass and Harold Pinter, and last year’s winner Belarusian journalist Irina Khalip. Khalip, who was not able to attend the ceremony last year as she was under house arrest, was in Darmstadt to present the award to Index. In her speech introducing Index, Khalip spoke of her personal connection with Index, as well as its history working with exiled and imprisioned writers. She said: When in prison Natalia (Radzina, of opposition website Charter 97) and I did not know that in 2011 together with all political prisoners in Belarus we were awarded the special Freedom of Expression prize.  Index on Censorship did everything so that we were not forgotten in prison and were released as soon as possible. For instance, together with Free Belarus Now and the Belarus Free Theatre, Index persuaded several European banks to stop trading Belarus government bonds to prevent Europe from trading with the dictator. This made a big difference in persuading the regime it could not withstand international pressure forever.

Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine, received the prize on behalf of the organization from the president of German PEN Josef Haslinger. She told the audience “ Index has taken aim at many authoritarian rulers and their regimes and made clear that contrary to what many may have thought and hoped for censorship is not over.”

“Index has sought, too, to keep the public aware of the pressure on journalists all over the world, who were struggling to do their jobs in difficult circumstances, often where their lives were in danger.”