Council of Europe calls on Turkey to restore freedom of expression

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks, published a Memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey based on the findings of two visits to the country that he conducted in April and September, 2016.

The Memorandum brings up issues regarding the pressuring and stifling of critical media, the direct attacks on media freedom and independence and the outright closure of critical media outlets.

The deteriorating safety and security of journalists in the form of direct attacks and violence and other forms of harassment specifically targeting journalists, as in the case of exiled journalist Can Dundar, were thoroughly discussed in the Memorandum.

The backsliding in the case-law of the Turkish judiciary, the use of judicial harassment to restrict parliamentary debate, restrictions of academic freedom and the generalisation of judicial harassment against other groups other than media outlets also worried the Commissioner.

“These considerations show that judicial harassment no longer targets only media and journalism, but all sectors of Turkish society, including politicians, academics, NGOs, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens expressing themselves in public settings, including on social media,” the report read.

Concerns were raised regarding the increased resorting to bandwidth throttling (slowing down) of the internet and prosecutions and detentions for online activities.

The Memorandum also considered the upcoming referendum on constitutional changes saying that “the Commissioner regrets to observe that the serious shortcomings in the Constitution’s approach to human rights, including freedom of expression, are not at all being addressed and invites the Turkish authorities to remedy this situation.”

The Memorandum observed that the “rapid deterioration in freedom of expression and media freedom went hand-in-hand with the erosion of the independence of the Turkish judiciary. The latter culminated in the drastic measures taken under the state of emergency, which display a serious disregard of the principles of the independence of the judiciary.”

Through the instalment of “the criminal judges of the peace,” the Memorandum assessed, the judiciary appears to have “transformed into an instrument of harassment to stifle opposition and legitimate criticism of the Turkish government, as well as of controlling the information available to the general public, including on the Internet, in co-operation with the prosecutors who have become even more active in targeting critical voices than before.”

The Memorandum evaluated the “overly wide application of the concepts of terrorist propaganda and support for a terrorist organisation” saying that this has put Turkey on a very dangerous path.