Turkey: New Government must ensure Freedom of Expression

Turkey: New Government must ensure Freedom of Expression - Media

Photographers and film camera people use an abandoned fire vehicle as a vantage point to cover ongoing clashes between police and protestors in Taksim Square.<br><br> Protests against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan spread across Turkey after a peaceful sit in organised by environmental activists in Gezi Park were violently broken up by the police, causing numerous injuries. The park had been slated for redevelopment and was to be turned into a shopping complex with a mosque and a replica of a former army barracks. On 4 June 2013, after two deaths amongst the protesters had been confirmed, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc apologised to protesters for the death and injury caused. On 11 June 2013 police moved in to clear the protesters' camp from the square and park and battles ensued with police firing teargas and being pelted with stones. Erdogan's AK Party has been in power for over a decade and many accuse the Prime Minister of becoming increasingly authoritarian, eroding public liberties and imposing Islamic values. Protesters have vowed to continue their activities.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the newly elected government of Turkey to ensure freedom of expression. Having won a majority in yesterday’s elections, President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) must now focus on fostering conditions for a diverse and pluralistic media, including by refraining from harassment of independent journalists and media outlets.

On 1 November, the AKP won Turkey’s national elections, gaining enough votes to secure a majority government. The snap elections were held after the main political parties failed to reach agreement on a coalition government, following elections in June which resulted in a hung parliament.

“The new government must ensure free media and a safe environment for critical debate”, said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19. “This would help address the highly polarised political atmosphere that has developed in Turkey since June’s elections. Intense political campaigning, combined with terrorist attacks and renewed instability in the South-East of the country, has underscored societal divisions. Further supressing discussion of the situation will only exacerbate existing tensions.

Prior to the elections, ARTICLE 19 participated in a press mission, led by the International Press Institute,which today issued a damning report on the state of free expression in Turkey. The period between June and October saw physical attacks on journalists and media outlets, raids on media outlets and seizures of publications, and abuse of criminal insult and anti-terrorism laws to target independent media and government critics. The harassment of media outlets reached a peak last week when two television stations and a daily newspaper were raided by police and taken over by a panel of trustees.

International election observers from OSCE/ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have raised concerns about restrictions on media freedom in Turkey prior to the elections. The Head of the PACE delegation characterised the electoral campaign as unfair due, among other factors, to the failure to ensure freedom of the media.

“It is crucial that the media is free to disseminate alternative views during elections periods. Voters must have access to information about candidates and their programmes and journalists must be free to report on matters of public interest”; said David Diaz-Jogeix. “The new government should restore the public’s faith in its ability to deliver democratic reforms. They should start by ensuring free and open debate in the media”.

ARTICLE 19 joins the other members of the IPI mission to call on the AKP government to immediately take steps to protect freedom of expression, including by:

  • Conducting a complete and transparent investigation into violent attacks on journalists and media outlets, including recent incidents targeting Hürriyet and columnist Ahmet Hakan, and ensuring that impunity for violent attacks on journalists is not allowed to flourish;
  • Ending the abuse of anti-terror laws to chill reporting on matters of public interest or criticism of public figures, and ensuring that such laws are both precisely tailored to serve only legitimate ends and interpreted narrowly;
  • Reforming laws providing criminal penalties for insult and defamation, by dealing with such cases under civil law, and to end all use of such laws to target journalists;
  • Enacting reforms to free state media outlets from political pressure, e.g., by effecting a transition to a public broadcasting service that presents information from plural and diverse sources;
  • Ending the use of state agencies, such as tax authorities or others, to apply pressure against journalists who engage in criticism or critical coverage of politicians or government actions;
  • Ending the practice of seeking bans on the dissemination of content related to matters of public interest, e.g., the ban on dissemination of information related to the recent bombings in Ankara;
  • Refraining from taking other steps to censor online content, such as the blocking of websites or URLs, or the blocking of social media accounts, if there is not a legitimate, compelling, pressing reason for doing so, subject to independent judicial oversight;
  • Releasing all journalists imprisoned on connection with journalistic activity, and to immediately and unconditionally release VICE News fixer Mohammed Rasool;
  • Ending all arbitrary detentions and deportation of foreign journalists;
  • Respecting the right of journalists to freely associate and ending pressure brought in recent years against the Journalists Union of Turkey.

Read the full IPI Report: Press Freedom in Turkey’s Inter-Election Period.

ARTICLE 19 UPDATE: Turkey’s Media Repression reaches Crisis Point.