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Turkey: State of emergency lifted but fears that new draft legislation will stifle free expression

Thursday 19 July 2018 - 2:13pm

Istanbul

In response to news that Turkey has lifted the state of emergency in place for almost two years, Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

We welcome yesterday’s lifting of the state of emergency in Turkey, which has been repeatedly used to severely restrict fundamental rights and freedoms. However, we are deeply concerned by new draft legislation introduced to parliament on 16 July that seeks to formalise some of the harshest aspects of the state of emergency, including the power to dismiss civil servants, wide powers to ban protests and enforce pre-charge detention of up to six days. We fear that the new draft bill could just prolong the state of emergency indefinitely.

This month alone, six journalists were sentenced to prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. More than 18,000 civil servants, including hundreds of teachers and academics, were dismissed by emergency decree.

Turkey’s new constitution grants the president the right to rule by decree. The lifting of the state of emergency must not be a smokescreen for continuous abuses. We call on the Turkish authorities to return to the rule of law and to immediately release all those held in prison for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Background

On 21 July 2016, President Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency following a violent coup attempt on 15 July 2016. The state of emergency has been extended every three months since then, with the Turkish authorities using emergency decrees as a tool to facilitate serious human rights violations and to silence dissent.

New constitutional changes, approved by referendum on 16 April 2017, fully entered into force following Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June 2018. They grant wide-reaching centralised new powers to the president, including the right to rule by decree, to solely appoint or dismiss ministers, to abolish parliament and to call elections at any time. The new constitution also removes the authority of parliament to monitor the executive branch and debate budget bills, while also making it harder to impeach the president for criminal behaviour.

On 6 July 2018, Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court sentenced former Zaman journalists Şahin Alpay, Mustafa Ünal, İbrahim Karayeğen, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne and Ali Bulaç to prison sentences ranging from eight years and nine months to 10 years and six months for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’. Zaman newspaper was closed by statutory decree and many of its employees were taken into custody following the July 2016 coup attempt. Four of the 11 defendants spent almost two years in pre-trial detention.

Under emergency decrees, those dismissed from their positions are subjected to a lifetime ban from seeking employment as civil servants and face a range of social and professional challenges, which can have severe repercussions. Their passports and their health insurance are cancelled. They can only challenge the dismissal decision through the Commission to Investigate State of Emergency Affairs. Concerns have been raised over its functionality and independence.

PEN International has been campaigning for imprisoned and persecuted writers and journalists in Turkey for decades, and in particular, since the government’s relentless crackdown on free expression and dissent, which expanded in 2016. For more information on our work on Turkey, click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org