Turkey: Government must protect Protest and Debate after Ankara Attack

Turkey: Government must protect Protest and Debate after Ankara Attack - Media

Women protest on the streets of Istanbul against the government ban on headscarves in schools and universities.

Following bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, in which at least 128 people were killed and hundreds more seriously injured, ARTICLE 19 condemns such acts of violence in the strongest possible terms, and calls upon the government to ensure respect for freedom of expression in the aftermath.

“ARTICLE 19 is appalled by these attacks on peaceful protesters, and expresses condolences to the families of the victims,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19.

“During this time of national grief, it is essential that the Turkish government ensures full respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Denying individuals the freedom to debate national security and the political situation within Turkey is likely to exacerbate tensions within the country,” he added.

On 10 October, two suicide bombers attacked a rally of peace activists, many of whom were supporters of the pro-Kurdish ‘People’s Democratic Party’, one of Turkey’s principal opposition parties. The attack will deepen social divisions, further undermining the opportunity for open political dialogue in the run-up to Turkey’s presidential elections, due to take place on 2 November.

Following the bombings, peaceful protesters gathered in Ankara and other Turkish cities to express their grief. Several protesters blamed President Tayyip Erdogan for the attack, criticising the government for failing to ensure protesters’ security.

“Moving forward, we call upon the Turkish government to ensure a full investigation into the bombings, and prevent further incidents. Under international human rights law, states are obliged to protect and facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This includes ensuring those responsible for attacks on peaceful protests are brought to justice,” added Diaz-Jogeix.

Censorship around the Attacks

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the Turkish government’s attempts to censor coverage of the attacks both on  traditional and social media.

The Turkish Prime Minister has ordered a temporary broadcast ban on covering the attacks,  banning the dissemination of images that show the moment of the blast, gruesome or bloody images, and those ‘that create a feeling of panic’.

A government spokesperson warned media organisations that they could face ‘a full blackout’ if they do not observe the ban.

Meanwhile, Twitter users in Turkey reported that they were unable to access the website in the aftermath of the attacks. Turkish courts have previously blocked access to social media websites on the grounds of national security, in a number of clearly disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression.

“Everyone has the right to access information, particularly on matters of public interest, which include terrorist attacks and government responses to such acts. This vaguely-worded ban imposed by the Turkish government, the threat to completely censor media organisations who disobey, and the blocking of social media all constitute unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression”, stated Diaz-Jogeix.

Broader restrictions on freedom of expression

The government’s attempts to limit coverage of the attacks are part of a wider crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey, which has intensified in the run-up to the presidential elections. Most recently, Bulent Kenes, Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Zaman, an English language newspaper, was arrested on charges of insulting President Erdogan on Twitter. The newspaper is highly critical of Erdogan’s government, and has strong links to US-based Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Mr Erdogan, who the President now accuses of trying to undermine the Turkish State.

“ARTICLE 19 condemns the arrest of Bulent Kenes,” said David Diaz-Jogeix. “Criminal charges for insulting a public figure are never acceptable, as they form a major restriction on the discussion of issues in the public interest, often including justice and governance. Over the past few months, we have seen a deplorable crackdown on independent journalism in Turkey. Journalists critical of the government face arrests, prosecution, and other forms of harassment by law enforcement agencies, while the State has failed to adequately respond to physical attacks on such journalists, or guarantee their protection,” stated Diaz-Jogeix.

The democratic process requires full and open debate on all matters of public interest, including national security. The media are an essential vehicle for achieving this, and the government must fully protect media workers, including by refraining from judicial or other forms of harassment and ensuring that perpetrators of attacks on journalists are brought to justice.

As Turkey prepares for the upcoming elections, ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Turkish government to ensure and promote respect for freedom of expression, including media freedom.