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Oral statement on freedom of expression in Turkey ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections

Monday 18 June 2018 - 12:46pm

Turkey will hold parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 June 2018

UN Human Rights Council 38th Special Session

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Mr President,

PEN International, ARTICLE 19, International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders are deeply concerned by the continuing onslaught on free speech in Turkey ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June 2018.

Media pluralism, a prerequisite for free and fair elections, has been gravely undermined since the imposition of a state of emergency in July 2016 and the rule by executive decree that followed.[1] Over 170 journalists and writers are in prison[2] and more than 180 media outlets and publishing houses have been closed down.

In April 2018, 14 employees of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet[3] were sentenced to prison on terrorism charges. This was a trial where the ‘crime’ was journalism and the only ‘evidence’ was journalistic activities. The acquisition of Doğan Group, Turkey’s largest media organisation and newspaper distributor, by a pro-government conglomerate in March 2018 risks further silencing independent voices.[4]

Political pluralism is essential in providing a real choice to voters yet members of the parliamentary opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been held in pre-trial detention since November 2016 on dubious terrorism charges. Party leader and writer Selahattin Demirtaş is running for president from his prison cell. The forced replacement of elected local officials in the southeast has deprived millions of voters of their elected representatives in parliament and local government.[5]

Voters have the right to information in sufficient time on a range of issues from a variety of differing sources, including voices of dissent. The authorities must guarantee access to independent and diverse media so the electorate can form a balanced opinion in the lead up to the election. Unless people are free to express themselves and share information without fear of reprisals, there can be no guarantee that elections genuinely reflect their will.[6]

We urge this Council to call on the Turkish authorities to:

  • Guarantee fair media access for all candidates and parties, including equal broadcasting time, and allow for the dissemination of all information to the maximum extent possible in order to ensure that voters are fully informed;[7]
  • Immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression;
  • End the prosecutions and detention of journalists simply on the basis of the content of their journalism or alleged affiliations;
  • Permit the reopening and independent operation of closed media outlets and halt executive interference with independent news organisations;
  • End the state of emergency.

Thank you Mr. President

[1] PEN International, Resolution on Turkey, September 2017: https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/Resolution-on-Turkey.pdf

[2] P24, list of imprisoned journalists: http://platform24.org/en/articles/653/journalists-in-state-of-emergency---143

[3] Cumhuriyet Verdict Huge Blow to Freedom of Expression, joint statement, 26 April 2018: http://pen-international.org/news/cumhuriyet-verdict-huge-blow-to-freedom-of-expression

[4] PEN International, Turkey: joint statement on today's raid at Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, 29 March 2018: http://pen-international.org/news/turkey-statement-on-todays-raid-at-ozgurlukcu-demokrasi

[5] PEN International Turkey: Destruction of Kurdish culture In the southeast two years on from collapse of ceasefire, 2 August 2017: http://pen-international.org/news/turkey-destruction-of-kurdish-culture-in-the-southeast-two-years-on-from-collapse-of-ceasefire

[6] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Turkey must lift state of emergency restrictions for credible elections to take place, 9 May 2018: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23052&LangID=E

[7] Human Rights and Elections, United Nations Handbook, para. 120: ‘Arrangements for fair media access by candidates and parties are an important focus of electoral law. This is especially evident where the major information media are government-controlled. Media regulations should provide for safeguards against political censorship, unfair government advantage and unequal access during the campaign period.’