Turkey must stop persecuting independent media and arbitrarily detaining journalists

On the 1st of March, during the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation called on Turkey to halt the persecution of independent media and the arbitrary detention of journalists.

A recent report by the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms found that in certain cases counter-terrorism legislation has been used by nations to deliberately silence civil society.

The report concludes by stating that, “broad invocations of the need to counter terrorism, PCVE and protect national security have been abused by a number of States to close civic space.”

The report offers a list of recommendations for the Member States of the United Nations. Here are some of the more prominent points:

  1. Definitions of terrorism and of violent extremism in national laws must not be broad and vague.
  2. Legitimate expression of opinions or thought must never be criminalised.
  3. Damage to property, absent other qualifications, must not be construed as terrorism.
  4. Measures aiming to regulate the existence, control and limit funding of civil society must comply with requirements of proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination.
  5. Regulatory measures relating to terrorism financing and removal of “terrorist content” must comply with principles of legality, proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination.
  6. Humanitarian actors should be protected from any forms of harassment, sanctions or punishment resulting from measures to counter terrorism or violent extremism.

Addressing the Council, the Foundation highlighted the report’s focus on the particular effects of counter-terrorism measures on the independent press in Turkey, with specific emphasis on how the 2016 attempted coup d’état and the ensuing 2-year state of emergency caused an exponential increase in the number of arrests and detentions of journalists.

The report accurately depicts an alarming trend in Turkey. Since 2016, independent news outlets are rapidly disappearing, as the Turkish government has undertaken to stifle dissenting voices, in the name of loosely defined concepts such as “national security” and “public order”.

In April 2018, after a lengthy 17 month-long politicised trial, the final verdict in the case of staff and former journalists of Cumhuriyet newspaper was announced. The indictment falsely contended that Cumhuriyet radically changed its editorial policies to produce propaganda and provide support to three groups categorised as “terrorist organisations”.

In this case and many others, the judicial process has been instrumentalised in order to retaliate against journalists for independent reporting and critical stances on the government. In February this year, the Court of Appeals upheld the rulings and the long prison sentences handed down in April 2018. In these exceptional circumstances, the Right Livelihood Award Laureate, Cumhuriyet, continued to bravely honour its commitment to truly independent reporting and freedom of the press, against all odds.

By way of closing remarks, the Foundation proclaimed that journalism is not a crime. No action to counter terrorism should criminalise the legitimate expression of opinion or thought and undermine the protection of human rights. Additionally, the Foundation welcomed the priorities set forth by the Special Rapporteur in his report and called on Turkey to halt the persecution of independent media and the arbitrary detention of journalists.


Read the full statement