Twenty-four rights-groups call on Turkey to release all those arbitrarily detained, now at risk of Covid-19

Osman Kavala

In the early hours of Tuesday 14 April, the Turkish Parliament passed a law which will lead to the release of up to 90,000 prisoners. However, it excludes scores of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, lawyers and others arbitrarily detained pending trial or serving sentences following unfair trials under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws which facilitate incarceration for exercise of free speech.

While we welcome any measures taken to alleviate overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons, the new measures unjustifiably exclude tens of thousands who are imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their rights.  ARTICLE 19, Punto24 and the 22 undersigned organisations call on the Turkish authorities to take immediate steps to fulfill their human rights obligations by releasing all those arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and help mitigate the threat caused by the Covid-19 public health pandemic

The adoption of the law, which is part of the government’s judicial reform strategy announced in 2019, was fast-tracked in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to alleviate overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons. The new law comes into force as Turkey’s Justice Ministry has announced the death of three prisoners from Covid-19 on 13 April. The new law does not apply to individuals in pre-trial detention and also excludes anyone convicted of terrorism-related crimes, espionage or crimes against the intelligence services – laws which are frequently used to prosecute journalists, human rights defenders and others. This means many thousands of individuals whose only crime is the exercise of their right to freedom of expression are effectively excluded from release and are at increased risk of contracting the disease in prison.

Among them are Ahmet Altan, 70, who is awaiting appeal after being sentenced to 10.5 years in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member”, on the basis of his expression of political views, his previous role as editor of Taraf newspaper, and alleged contacts. It also includes businessman Osman Kavala, who has been in pre-trial detention for over two and a half years, currently on the charge of “espionage” and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, who has been in prison since November 2016 and whose release has been repeatedly blocked despite a European Court decision ordering it. Journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser, were remanded in prison in March, on charges under the Law on National Intelligence Agency, in connection with their reporting on the death of an intelligence officer in Libya.

Turkey is subject to the authority of both the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the European Committee on the Prevention on Torture who respectively have issued calls to “reduce prison populations and other detention populations, wherever possible” and said concerted efforts by all relevant authorities to resort to alternatives to deprivation of liberty “ is imperative, in particular, in situations of overcrowding.”

We likewise urge the Turkish authorities to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation, which strongly recommends States give enhanced consideration to non-custodial measures at all stages of the administration of criminal justice, including at the pre-trial, trial and sentencing as well as post-sentencing stages. It also urges priority be given to conditional release, particularly for older persons, ill people, and others (including pregnant women) with specific risks related to Covid-19. The WHO has made it clear that without taking urgent measures in prisons to reduce the spread of the virus, efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 in the community are also likely to fail.

The Turkish courts frequently justify pre-trial detention on the grounds of flight risk or tampering with evidence. Given the closure of borders due to the pandemic, it is difficult to see what justification there is for holding individuals in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods in what is now an extremely high risk situation.

To protect the human rights of prisoners, including their right to life and health, and to protect the health of the public at large, the Turkish authorities should now enact immediate measures to release all those arbitrarily detained, whether in pre-trial detention or after conviction, particularly given many are vulnerable to Covid-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions. We urge the authorities to move now to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Failure to release those detained and imprisoned in unfair trials and on spurious charges, which would help reduce the spread of a deadly disease in detention, would show further alarming disregard for human rights by the Turkish government.

 

Signatories

ARTICLE 19
Punto24, Platform for Independent Journalism
Articolo21
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Danish PEN
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
German PEN
Human Rights Watch
IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
International Federation of Journalists
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
PEN America
PEN International
PEN Turkey
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project (TSLP)
Wan-Ifra / World Association of News Publishers

Turkey: Advertising ban on independent newspaper must be lifted

24 international and local press freedom organisations ask that BIK lift the advertising ban on independent newspaper Evrensel.
Screenshot of the Turkish newspaper Evrensel.

Rıdvan Duran,
General Director, Basın İlan Kurumu (BIK)
Merkez Efendi Mah. Mevlana Cad. No: 140/A
Toya Plaza Kat: 5 Zeytinburnu / İSTANBUL

March 16, 2020

Dear Mr. Duran,

On behalf of the 24 international and local press freedom organisations and signatories to this letter, we are writing to ask that Basın İlan Kurumu (BIK) swiftly lift the advertising ban currently imposed on the newspaper Evrensel.

Evrensel has been under an advertising ban since September, 2019, and if the ban remains in place for a full six months, until March 28, 2020, Evrensel faces being removed from the public advertising system for at least three years.

Such a decision would have a devastating impact on the finances of the newspaper, threatening its closure and weakening the diversity and pluralism of Turkey’s newspaper market.

In February you met with representatives of the International Press Institute (IPI), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Journalists Syndicate of Turkey (TGS), Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and assured them that the ban would be lifted as soon as Evrensel made the necessary changes to their distribution system so as not to fall foul of the bulk buying rules.

Evrensel have since made the changes requested of them, but have three times had their appeals refused after new audits conducted by BIK.

BIK was given a crucial democratic role when it was established in 1961 to provide support to the country’s newspaper sector through the even distribution of public advertising funds. The system has become essential to the survival of many newspapers as the economic pressures on the print industry have grown over the past decade.

BIK’s role is therefore vital to ensure the health, diversity and plurality of Turkey’s newspaper sector. Central to that is, of course, its policy to provide support regardless of a newspaper’s editorial line. Evrensel is known for its independent reporting and has, in recent years, been targeted for judicial harassment as a consequence.

In addition to the indefinite ban, since September BIK has also issued three other limited bans on Evrensel for alleged ‘press ethics violations’. Further penalties would strongly suggest that BIK is being used to punish Evrensel for its independent reporting.

We urge you therefore to make good on your promise and to ensure the prompt lifting of the ban on Evrensel prior to the end of the six month deadline.

We also take this opportunity to urge BIK to start publishing annual reports on the distribution of its funds that we understand amount to 450 million Turkish Lira of public funds and on the different disciplinary measures taken against newspapers. Providing transparency on BIK’s use of public funds would enable the public to verify that its money is used correctly and is consistent with the principles of supporting a pluralistic and democratic media environment.

Kind regards

Signatories:

Article 19
Articolo 21
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Civic Space Studies Association – Turkey / Sivil Alan Araştırmaları Derneği
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Danish PEN
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
German PEN
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Journalists Union of Turkey
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
PEN America
PEN International
P24
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)

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.