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CPJ joins call to UN rights council for end to press crackdown in Turkey

By Gulnoza Said, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator

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The Committee to Protect Journalists joined 12 other press freedom and freedom of expression organizations calling on the member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council to urge Turkey to end its repressive policies against independent reporting and free speech.

In a statement delivered at the 42nd session of the council on September 18 by a representative of U.K. freedom of expression group Article 19, CPJ and the other signatories expressed concern about the Turkish government’s continuing crackdown on media and civic society, including the imprisonment of dozens of journalists and media workers, the forced closure of media outlets and websites, and the arbitrary nature of trials.

The statement urged Turkey to take immediate steps to restore the rule of law and end its assault on media freedom and civil society.

The full text of the statement is here.

ARTICLE 19 delivered the following oral statement at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council during Item 4 General Debate.

Mr. President,

It is now more than three years since the Turkish Government intensified its repressive crackdown against oppositional and dissenting voices in the country. This ongoing freedom of expression crisis demands the Council’s urgent attention.

Although the State of Emergency was lifted in July 2018, the sweeping emergency decrees that enabled the government to pursue its unprecedented crackdown against the media and civil society have now effectively been absorbed into the ordinary legal framework.

Since the 2016 coup attempt, at least 180 media outlets have been forcibly closed. Over 220,000 websites have been blocked. At least 132 journalists and media workers are behind bars, and hundreds more have been prosecuted as terrorists, solely for their journalistic work, in the absence of any credible or even individualised evidence.

The rule of law is being systematically dismantled. Trials are increasingly Kafkaesque as the executive’s grip on the judiciary has continued to tighten.  Journalists Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were initially forced to defend themselves against charges that they sent ‘subliminal messages’ in support of the coup attempt.Civil society activists and media workers have faced prosecution simply for allegedly downloading the secure communications app ‘Bylock’. In recent months, the government has even sought to rewrite history, charging 16 leading civil society figures who participated in the peaceful 2013 Gezi Park protests with attempting to overthrow the government. Osman Kavala is in his 24th month of pre-trial detention, in a flagrant violation of his fair trial rights.

Last week, whilst the convictions of six of his Cumhuriyet colleagues were overturned, Ahmet Şik was served new, unfounded charges including propaganda for a terrorist group and “insulting the Turkish state” that may see him sentenced to 30 years in prison. This judicial harassment follows a violent attack against Şik by police on 20 August, during a protest in front of an Istanbul Court against the dismissal of three opposition mayors in three cities in the South East. No one has yet been held accountable.

We call on all States at this Council to use their voice and urge Turkey to change course, and take immediate steps to restore the rule of law, and end its assault on media freedom and civic space.

I thank you, Mr. President.

ARTICLE 19

Cartoonists Rights Network International

Committee to Protect Journalists

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Index on Censorship

OBC Transeuropa

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

PEN America

PEN International

Norwegian PEN

English PEN

Danish PEN

German PEN

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