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Parliament must defend health of Turkish democracy

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey
The Grand National Assembly of Turkey

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To: Members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey

26 October 2016

The undersigned organisations call on Turkey's national assembly to end the recently extended state of emergency, and take immediate steps to repair the damage to freedom of expression and Turkish democracy since the defeat of the 15 July coup.

We respect the need for every government to assure the safety of its citizens, yet the measures taken under the state of emergency since July go far beyond what is necessary for public safety, and are destroying the vibrant political culture of open, diverse dialogue that distinguishes a democracy from a dictatorship.

In the three months since 15 July, over 100,000 people have been dismissed from their positions, most for supposed affiliation with the Gulenist movement. Over 25,000 have been arrested, over 2,000 educational establishments have been closed, and more than 150 media outlets have been shut down. Since the declaration of the state of emergency at least 98 journalists have been jailed, bringing the total number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey to 130, not counting those that have been detained and released without charge – making Turkey the world's leading jailer of journalists.

As Reporters without Borders has documented, those who have worked with or for organisations sympathetic to the Gulenists are being treated as automatic members of the movement. Members of the movement, in turn, are treated as participants in the coup. In casting such a wide net in its crackdown, Turkey's government is violating both internationally recognized human rights and universally understood principles of justice by ascribing guilt by association, not evidence, and punishing individuals for their thoughts and beliefs, not their actions.

The extension of the crackdown to Kurdish, Alevi and left-wing media uninvolved in the coup suggests that the state of emergency is being abused beyond its stated purpose and is used for harassing individuals and groups that are merely inconvenient to the government in power, not threats to the democratic system. Many are being detained and punished not for a threat they pose to the Turkish government, or to their fellow citizens, but because they disagree with the government's actions or policy, or are part of or sympathetic to a minority group.

The survival of democracy requires strong tolerance for a broad spectrum of opinion and belief in public life, including those that majority opinion finds inconvenient. Suppressing the independent voice and participation of minorities in public discourse in the name of anti-terrorism is not only a subversion of their free expression rights – it feeds the discontent that grows into extremism. It will be a poor tribute to the peaceful and democratic spirit of 15 July if weakening democracy and strengthening extremism is the direction chosen by the Turkish people's political representatives in its aftermath.

We call on the national assembly to take immediate steps to protect the right of all citizens to freedom of expression and belief. We believe the state of emergency must either be ended, or greatly narrowed in its scope. We therefore recommend that you:

  • 1. Return police detention without legal review to the normal maximum four day period, and amend other provisions of the state of emergency to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • 2. Explicitly limit terrorism charges to individuals for whom clear evidence exists of acts of violence, intent to commit acts of violence, or advocating of acts of violence, and drop terrorism charges against all those, like Ayşe Çelik and her co-defendants, who have not committed such an act;
  • 3. Refer cases of media affected by the recent shutdowns back to the judiciary, and permit them to re-open unless and until they are found guilty of a serious crime;
  • 4. Set clear limits on the use of travel bans and passport confiscation, and end the extension of these measures to family members;
  • 5. Renew respect for press credentials by state agents, and return confiscated credentials to press not found guilty of a crime.


Signed,

Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Albanian Media Institute
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
ARTICLE 19
Association for Civil Rights
Bytes for All
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism - Hungary
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Index on Censorship
International Press Centre
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Watch
Norwegian PEN
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
OpenMedia
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Trinidad and Tobago's Publishers and Broadcasters Association
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC

Anatolian Heritage Foundation
Association of European Journalists
Centre for Freedom of Expression at Ryerson University
English PEN
SEEMO
PEN Germany
Wales PEN Cymru

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