Turkey: Joint report highlights continued crackdown on free expression

A joint report by eight international press freedom and journalism organisations - including PEN International - Turkey’s Journalists in the Dock: The Judicial Silencing of the Fourth Estate underscores the depth of Turkey’s now three-year-crackdown on the media despite Turkish government attempts to distract from it. It calls on Turkey to release all jailed journalists, stop the arbitrary persecution of the press, revise anti-terror and defamation laws, and end political interference in the judiciary.

The report is the result of a collaboration among the International Press Institute (IPI), ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF), Norwegian PEN and PEN International. It reflects the findings of a joint mission to Turkey from 11 to 13 September 2019, during which the eight groups met with Turkey’s Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Ministry of Justice, as well as Turkey-based civil society groups and journalists.

The report reveals an excess of egregious violations of fundamental rights, with dozens of journalists held on the most serious terrorism-related charges for months, sometimes years, based on the flimsiest of evidence in which critical journalism has been conflated with terrorist propaganda, all part of a campaign to silence opposition voices and close down free speech. The mission largely failed to assuage these concerns.

The following key issues stood out:

  • The endemic weaknesses of a judiciary submerged by tens of thousands of cases while simultaneously suffering the loss of a third of its own judges, and presided over by a management body under effective executive control, render it unfit for the task.
  • The government’s judicial reform strategy, launched in May, fails to substantively address any of the principal obstacles to an effective and independent judiciary, suggesting its real purpose is to give the impression of reform while in fact normalizing state-of-emergency-style justice.
  • The approach of Turkish officials and courts toward fundamental rights remains highly problematic, particularly concerning the conflation of critical journalism with support for terrorist groups. In particular, European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence on the protection for freedom of expression is not observed.

The public launch of the report took place at a public discussion in Brussels on 18 November 2019, where leading journalists from Turkey testified on the prosecutions facing journalists in the country and debated the opportunities for European engagement.

Over two days in Brussels mission members are presenting their findings to EU leaders and policy makers and holding discussions on how the EU can best engage to support the plight of Turkey’s journalists.

To read the report please 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