Association

On 21st September, the 10th Chamber of the Council of State reached a decision on a lawsuit initiated by CSOs (Humans Right Association and Association of Ankara University Political Science Graduates Alliance) regarding the amendment to the Regulation of Associations law in 2018,which made it mandatory for associations to notify public institutions of the details of its members. The Council of State annulled the relevant articles of the law. However, although the relevant articles of the regulation have been cancelled, the obligation to notify the members of the association continues since it was added to the Associations Law on 26th March 2020 (see previous update).

Peaceful Assembly

Protests for academic freedom continue

Protests staged by academics and students at Bogazici University in Istanbul continued after the appointment of the new rector Naci İnci by the President which protesters denounced as illegitimate. Police attempted to prevent a march on the campus premises, while eight Bogazici students were arrested while reading a prepared statement in front of the ruling AKP party headquarters. The academics and the students reiterated their demands for a democratically elected rector to be appointed from the ranks of the University, and symbolically turned their backs on the rector’s office as a sign of protest. On 5th October 2021, ten students were detained and two of them arrested, while protesting against Inci, who applied to the prosecutor’s office for charges of threat, insult, damage to property, preventing duty and violating the law of meetings and demonstrations to be laid. Protests resumed on 7th October 2021 demanding the release of all students. While 14 people were detained, the police also surrounded the area where the journalists had gathered and prevented any coverage of the incidents. Journalists were held in the police “blockade” for over an hour.

LGBTQI+ rights

Ahead of the trials of eight people who were detained at the annual Istanbul Pride March. LGBTQI+ organisations aimed to draw public attention to LGBTQI+ rights. The activists were charged for violating the Law no 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations. CSOs argue that such detentions were in violation of the Constitution. The trials were scheduled to start on 2nd November 2021. LGBTQI+ organisations stated:

We exercised our Constitutional right, we will exercise it again. We don't abide by the arbitrary bans of the heteronormative order. You cannot remove LGBTIQ+s from squares, work, home and life. You will learn to abide by the Constitution. You will accept that LGBTIQ+s lead an equal and free life.”

Other protests staged

Several other protests resulted in intervention from the authorities or outright bans:

  • In mid-September 2021, students from several cities staged peaceful protests to draw attention to rising housing prices and insufficient public housing opportunities. On 28th September 2021, in Istanbul and Izmir, police intervened against the students who continued their protests. According to the statement made by the Istanbul Governor's Office, 28 people were detained during the protests in Istanbul, while 30 students were detained in Izmir. In September 2021, the Eskişehir Governor's Office banned all demonstrations, citing COVID-19 measures. Student protests followed, among others at Koc University.
  • Police denied attendance for those wanting to commemorate the victims of a 2015 bomb attack which took place at the main train station in Ankara. The Ankara Governor's Office restricted last year’s commemoration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, protests were prevented by the police with tear gas and rubber bullets used against those attending the commemoration.
  • On 11th October 2021, 120 workers locked themselves in a Mitsuba car factory in Kocaeli to protest the dismissal of nine of their co-workers by management. Police used a water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protests.
  • The Ankara Governor's Office banned a demonstration registered by the Ankara Labour and Democracy Forces which was organised as part of a World Peace Day rally on 1st September 2021. Similarly, while the rally in Istanbul was first permitted by the Istanbul Governor's Office, it was later banned by the Ministry of Interior. On 5th September 2021, the İstanbul Labour, Peace and Democracy Forces protested against the decision by organising a gathering at Taksim Square, in which the police intervened and detained 57 people.
  • On 12th October 2021, a public talk with the writer Mirza Metin at the Kurdish theater was prevented by the police on the grounds of the pandemic.

Moreover, several protests were held without interference by state forces:

  • On 25th August 2021, journalist organisations protested against the decision of public broadcaster TRT to hold exams for men and women separately, and for the firing of an employee for a tweet in which he commemorates Marxist revolutionaries killed in 1972.
  • On 2nd September 2021, a group protested against the Turkish government’s decision to build a road in a Natural and Historical Site Area by lying down in front of excavators to prevent them from carrying out construction of the road.
  • On 28th August 2021, three organisations (Saturday Mothers, the Human Rights Association Istanbul Branch and the IHD Commission Against Disappearances in Custody) peacefully marked the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearanceswith a rally.

Expression

On 5th October 2021, the Turkish Association of Journalists published its quarterly media monitoring report, showing that pressure on media increased in the second part of 2021, highlighting violence, arrests, threats and investigations against journalists, as well as ties between the mafia, politicians and journalists. According to the report, 179 journalists stood trial in 81 different cases, out of which 18 journalists were prosecuted on the charges of ‘insulting the president’. Women journalists are particularly targeted, with at least ten physical assaults reported by the Coalition for Women in Journalism only in September 2021, and many cases of bullying and harassment on digital platforms being documented.

Women journalists disproportionately targeted by cyberbullying, harassment and abuse on digital platforms raises huge concerns about their physical and psychological safety. Online harassment against women journalists in Turkey mostly takes the form of hate-filled rhetoric and insults with a patriarchal and misogynistic tint.”

Internet freedom in decline

According to the latest report on internet freedom by Freedom House, Turkey belongs in the ‘not free’ category, scoring 34 out of 100 points. For a third year in a row, Turkey’s freedom rankings are declining year on year as a result of hundreds of websites being blocked and the removal of content critical of President Erdogan. The report notes that activists, journalists and social media users are subjected to harassment for their social media posts.

Related to further restrictions on this freedom, in September 2021, the Media Research Association published a report on the Social Media Law, which came into force in October 2020. According to the report, which examined 658 censored news items, "corruption and irregularity" was the most censored content (336 news items), and "abuse of office" was the second most censored issue (308 news items). Business people, ministers and high-level bureaucrats were amongst those who demanded content be censored. Additionally, a total of 1,197 removal orders were issued against news outlets for digital content, limiting access to information and media freedom.

Several incidents were documented against journalists during the reporting period:

  • Barış Kaya, a Fox News correspondent for Turkey, was denied entry on a central executive meeting of the ruling AKP party, by request of the AKP spokesperson.
  • An investigation against journalist Baransel Ağca was opened for iinsulting President Erdogan in a social media post in 2016.
  • A lawsuit was filed against Gökhan Yavuzel, a member of the International Writers’ Union (PEN), for "openly inciting the public to hatred and enmity" on the basis of an article with cultural and artistic content.
  • A lawsuit was initiated against Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor and journalists for an article titled "Lucky friend of Erdogan". The first hearing of the case was held at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance where the journalists are being prosecuted for alleged "insult".
  • On 5th September 2021,journalist Eylem Nazlıer was attacked by the police and had her  phone taken away while she was filming an incident where a policeman was insulting a woman during a protest marking Peace Day in Turkey on 5th September 2021. Additionally, four other women journalists were prevented from covering the protest after they were surrounded by the police and shielded off.
  • On 19th September 2021, police officers threatened a journalist testifying in a trial relating to the murder of a man by the local police in Istanbul. As the journalist was leaving the courthouse, a police officer told her “with god’s will the same will happen to you”.
  • Additionally, the Press Advertisement Institution, a state agency responsible for distributing public advertisements to newspapers, has banned ads in two daily newspapers, Cumhuriyet and Sozcu. Cumhuriyet was penalised for its reporting of illegal construction in Istanbul, where government members are implicated, while in Sozcu’s case, the reason concerned two articles revealing how the spouse and assistant of a former MP of the ruling AKP party rose to prominence in government institutions. Cumhuriyet has received public ad bans for a total of 129 days since last year, while Sozcu has received ad bans for 23 days since 2019.

Separately, on 27th September 2021, a lawsuit has been filed against the Ankara Bar Association management, who criticised the President of Religious Affairs after he attacked LGBTQI+ people and people living with HIV during his Friday sermon in April 2020. The first hearing against the 11 lawyers accused of "insulting a public official due to their duty" was to be held at the Ankara 16th High Criminal Court on 11th November 2021.

Positive ruling

On 2nd September, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that the imprisonment of Imam Resul Ucdag in 2017 constitutes a violation of the freedom of expression. The Imam published two photos on Facebook which prosecutors deemed as propaganda for the Kurdistan’s Worker’s Party (PKK) and praising its violent practices. According to the prosecutor, one of the photos showed a fire set by protestors and the other showed two Kurdish People's Protection Unit members standing in front of the buildings that had collapsed in the war.