Turkey: cruel new charges against Osman Kavala must be dropped

Silivri Prison in fog. Photo Norsk PEN

Norwegian PEN, PEN International and ARTICLE 19 condemn the cruel decision to open a new criminal investigation against civil society leader and publisher Osman Kavala, immediately after his acquittal in the ‘Gezi Park’ trial yesterday. The European Court of Human Rights has previously found that his 928-day arbitrary detention violated his right to freedom of expression. The new charges against Kavala should be immediately dropped and the Turkish authorities must cease the harassment of civil society.

Just hours after his acquittal yesterday in the ‘Gezi Park’ case, the Public Prosecutor announced that they were appealing the acquittal and opening a new investigation against Osman Kavala for ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence and force’ under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code in connection with the 2016 coup attempt. Kavala was reportedly taken to police detention immediately upon release from prison last night. He is due to stand before a judge today, who will decide on whether he should be placed in pre-trial detention on the new charges.

Hege Newth, Secretary General at Norwegian PEN, said:

‘Norwegian PEN are thoroughly disgusted by the dirty tactic of immediately re-arresting an innocent man who was already deprived of his freedom for so long. It is obvious to those who follow events in Turkey that there is no connection whatsoever between the constitutionally-permitted protests of Gezi Park and the attempted-coup of July 2016.’

Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

‘The latest turn of events could not be more painful. Re-arresting Osman Kavala hours after his acquittal is a cruel and callous move. Kavala should be home with his friends and family yet, after two and a half years, he still languishes behind bars. The Turkish authorities must end their pervasive crackdown on media freedom, civil society and dissenting voices once and for all. The PEN community continues to stand with Kavala and forcefully calls for his immediate and unconditional release.’

David Diaz-Jogeix, Senior Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19 said:

‘Acquitting Kavala only to re-arrest him hours later is cruel and arbitrary. This is a pattern of behaviour we are beginning to see with the Turkish authorities: Ahmet Altan, Selahattin Demirtaş, Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy are just some of the other individuals who have been targeted by this malicious behaviour on the part of the authorities. Hiding behind legal technicalities to avoid implementing judgments from the European Court of Human Rights cannot mask that this is essentially judicial harassment aimed at intimidating the individuals involved, and society at large, into silence.”

Acquittals in Gezi Park trial fail to restore faith in Turkish justice system

Nine defendants were acquitted in the ‘Gezi Park’ trial yesterday in Istanbul, while the cases of the seven defendants residing outside Turkey were separated from the case file. The judgment, while welcome, did not reflect an assessment of the evidence presented in the indictment or during the trial and came after lengthy proceedings and lengthy pretrial detention of Kavala and Yığıt Aksakoğlu (who was also held in pre-trial detention for seven months), which were manifestly designed to silence the defendants and civil society at large. The result therefore failed to restore confidence in the independence and impartiality of the Turkish judiciary.

Court observers who monitored the eight hearings of the trial, including Norwegian PEN, noted the lack of adherence to court procedure and the Turkish penal code itself, in a trial instigated on the basis of a 657-page indictment that was disturbingly devoid of any clear statement of facts or evidence of a crime. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, which observed the trial with the support of ARTICLE 19, characterized the trial as a “meritless prosecution that has little to do with ordinary and proper trial procedures”. In its judgment of 10 December 2019 in the Kavala case, the European Court of Human Rights noted that the activities listed as evidence refer to the “ordinary and legitimate activities on the part of a human rights defender and the leader of an NGO”. Two police witnesses heard during the trial had not been able identify the defendants as having participated in Gezi protests at all.

At the final hearing yesterday, defence lawyers at one point had to form a human shield around a colleague to prevent him being taken out of the courtroom by military force. This had followed the judge’s demand that the defendants make their final statements before the lawyers had called any of their witnesses or expounded their legal arguments.

When order was restored to the room, the judicial panel returned to read out the final verdict in the case. This was to acquit all nine defendants present, to release Kavala from detention and to separate the case file of those defendants abroad and request that they return to Turkey to stand trial.

The defendants had been tried on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of Turkey by force and violence during the spontaneous Gezi protests that erupted in the country in 2013. Last week, the prosecutor in the case requested aggravated life imprisonment for defendants Osman Kavala, Mucella Yapıcı and Yığıt Aksakoğlu for ‘attempting to overthrow the government through violence and force’. He also requested that Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Şerafettin Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi be convicted as ‘persons who assisted the commission of the offence’. Finally, he demanded that those defendants in exile outside Turkey return to face trial.

While welcome, the acquittals came as a surprise given that the judicial panel had not allowed any of the demands of the defence lawyers but had acceded to all those of the prosecution. Moreover, they appeared to have disregarded the European Court of Human Rights’ decision of December 2019 that demanded Osman Kavala’s immediate release from prison.

Previously, at the second hearing, the defence lawyers stated that it was not just the rights of assembly and demonstration that were on trial but the Turkish legal system itself. Although the defendants were acquitted, the reputation of the Turkish legal system has been further damaged due to the evident illegitimacy of the case itself.

We repeat our call for the Turkish authorities to immediately drop all charges against Osman Kavala and to cease the harassment of civil society.

Norsk PEN i ny rapport: – Ingen juridisk uavhengighet i Tyrkia

Manglende rettssikkerhet, vilkårlig forfølgelse av journalister og et politisk styrt rettsapparat er noen av funnene i en ny rapport Norsk PEN har bidratt til.
Ny rapport fra åtte presse- og ytringsfirhetsorganisasjoner peker på en rekke problemer for pressefriheten i Tyrkia. Foto: IPI

Les hele rapporten her.

Norsk PEN deltok i september sammen med syv andre presse- og ytringsfrihetsorganisasjoner i en delegasjonsreise til Tyrkia. Resultatet av delegasjonens undersøkelser er nå utgitt i rapporten «Turkey’s Journalists in the Dock. Judicial Silencing of the Fourth Estate».

Delegasjonen har undersøkt den kritiske situasjoen for pressefriheten i Tyrkia etter kuppforsøket i 2016. Over 120 journalister sitter i fengsel, og flere hundre står tiltalt for terrorisme.

– Mens vi var i Tyrkia, ble seks journalister i Cumhuriyet-saken løslatt. Dessverre var dette et unntak. De fleste av våre samtaler og diskusjoner viste at det fortsatt ikke finnes reell vilje til å endre eller reformere dagens praksis, sier Caroline Stockford, Norsk PENs Tyrkia-rådgiver som deltok i delegasjonen.

Nedslående funn

Funnene til delegasjonen er nedslående. Selv om unntakstilstanden i landet lettet sommeren 2018, har ikke pressens vilkår blitt bedre.

Tvert imot: En lang rekke journalister sitter fortsatt fengslet eller er ilagt reiseforbud som ofre for en utvidet, politisk motivert kampanje rettet mot mediene.

– Det er ingen juridisk uavhengighet i Tyrkia, og vi ser fortsatt at rettsvesenet presses kraftig fra politisk hold, sier Stockford.

«Svært alarmert»

Rapporten kommer også med kritikk mot at rettsvesenet er systematisk bygd ned de seneste årene, blant annet gjennom å avsette en tredjedel av landets dommere. Flere har selv blitt fengslet, og erstattet av nylig uteksaminerte jurister.

Delegasjonen er også svært kritiske til at Tyrkias grunnlovsdomstol har vært inkonsekvent i saker som angår ytringsfriheten. Denne retten er nedfelt i landets grunnlov, men respekteres ikke.

I tillegg er de «svært alarmert» av at lisensorganet Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) har fått utvidede myndigheter til også å gjelde internettpublikasjoner. Dette gjør det ennå vanskeligere for uavhengige nyhetsnettsteder å overleve.

Anbefalinger fra delegasjonen

Rapporten inneholder en rekke anbefalinger til tyrkiske myndigheter.

Først og fremst: Umiddelbart stanse deb vilkårlige forfølgelsen av journalister. I rettsvesenet må politisk motiverte domsavsigelser opphøre, og enhver tiltalt må få en rettferdig rettssak.

Delegasjonen ber også Tyrkia umiddelbart om å revidere sin anti-terror- og ærekrenkelseslovning, da denne i dag til stadighet benyttes for å stilne legitim kritikk i pressen.

Lagt fram i Brüssel
Til stede under framleggelsen av rapporten var beslutningstakere fra Europaparlamentet og nåværende og tidligere redaktører fra blant annet Bianet, CNN Turkey og Hürriyet online. Foto: Caroline Stockford

Rapporten ble lagt fram i Brüssel i forrige uke, der Tyrkia-rådgiver Caroline Stockford fra Norsk PEN deltok.

Delegasjonen bak rapporten fortalte om funnene til medlemmer av Europaparlamentet og dets Tyrkia-rapportør. Målet med besøket var også å presse på for løslatelse og frifinnelse av filantropen Osman Kavala, forfatteren Ahmet Altan og de andre som sitter fengslet i Tyrkia for å ha uttrykt regimekritiske meninger og ellers brukt sin konstitusjonelle rett til ytringsfrihet.

– Norsk PEN fortsetter å jobbe for fengslede skribenter og journalister i Tyrkia, og å støtte ytringsfrihet for alle i landet, var Stockfords budskap i Europaparlamentet.

Om rapporten

Organisasjonene som har samarbeidet om rapporten er Norsk PEN, PEN International, International Press Institute, ARTICLE 19, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) og Reporters without Borders (RSF).

I løpet av sin tre-dagersreise i september møtte delegasjonen tyrkiske presse- og ytringsfrihetsorganisasjoner til en rundebordssamtale, Justisdepartementet, EUs delegasjon til Tyrkia og The Supreme Court of Cassation, Tyrkias øverste ankedomstol.

Delegasjonen bak rapporten utenfor Europaparlamentet i Brüssel. #FreeTurkeyJournalists!

Further questions about Norwegian PEN’s work on the report can be sent to our Turkey advisor, Caroline Stockford, on caroline@norskpen.no.

Les hele rapporten her.

Norsk PEN støtter internasjonal uttalelse om internet og MR

26th Session Human Rights Council
Item 3, General Debate

The Internet and Human Rights
19 June 2014
Joint Statement
Delivered by Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19

Thank you Mr. President,

ARTICLE 19 delivers this statement on behalf of 48 NGOs.*

Two years ago this Council affirmed by consensus that “the same rights that people have offline must
also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression”.

In 2014, at Net-Mundial in Brazil the Internet was recognised as vital to the full realisation of sustainable development goals. 31 UN Special Rapporteurs recently affirmed that guaranteeing the free flow of information online ensures transparency and participation in decision-making, enhancing accountability and the effectiveness of development outcomes.

Development and social inclusion relies on the Internet remaining a global resource, managed in the public interest as a democratic, free and pluralistic platform. States must promote and facilitate universal, equitable, affordable and high-quality Internet access on the basis of human rights, the rule of law, and net-neutrality, including during times of unrest.

The blocking of communications, including of social media in Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Venezuela is a violation of freedom of expression, association and assembly and must be condemned. Dissent online must be protected. We deplore the detention of Sombat Boonngamanong in Thailand, who faces up to 14 years imprisonment for urging peaceful resistance to the recent military coup via social media in the form of a three-finger salute.

One year after the Snowden revelations, this Council must recognise that trust in the Internet is conditional on respect for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, regardless of users’ nationality or location. Any mass (or dragnet) surveillance, which comprises collection, processing and interception of all forms of communication is inherently disproportionate and a violation of human rights.

The targeted interception and collection of personal data must be conducted in accordance with international human rights law, as set out in the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles”. Critical and intermediate infrastructure must not be tampered with, nor should any system, protocol or standard be weakened to facilitate interception or decryption of data.

We urge this Council to take action to comprehensively address these challenges.

Thank you.

*ARTICLE 19
Access
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Big Brother Watch
Bits of Freedom
Bolo Bhi Pakistan
Bytes For All
Cambodia Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism, Romania
Centre for Internet & Society
Centre for Media Freedom & Responsibility
Chaos Computer Club
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center
European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL)
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP)
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Rights Agenda
Norwegian PEN
OpenMedia.org
Open Net Korea
Open Rights Group
Pakistan Press Foundation
Panos Institute West Africa
PEN Canada
PEN International
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders
Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Simon Davies, publisher of “Privacy Surgeon”
South East Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalisation of the Media
Thai Netizen Network
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum