International community decry injustice as HRD Osman Kavala sentenced to life in prison
According to the U.S. State Department 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey, published on 12th April 2022, Turkey continued to restrict the right to freedom of association by, for example, using provisions of the anti-terror law to prevent the reopening of associations and foundations it had previously closed due to alleged threats to national security. CSOs reported that police sometimes attended organisational meetings and recorded them, which the representatives interpreted as an effort to intimidate them.
According to the Rainbow Europe Map and Index 2022 published by the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe) in May 2022, Turkey ranked 48th out of 49 countries in Europe and Central Asia in terms of the overall protection of LGBTI human rights, followed only by Azerbaijan. The overall achievement of its human rights goals was set at four per cent. The report upon which the ranking is based mentions that countless hate crimes took place against LGBTI people and human rights defenders in 2021.
Women’s rights NGO faces judicial harassment
On 13th April 2022, the Turkish prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit seeking to close down Turkey’s leading women’s NGO, We Will Stop Femicide Platform, for allegedly “acting against the law and against morality” after several complaint petitions against the NGO were sent to the prosecution. The lawsuit prompted protests in the country. In a statement the organisations said:
“While we are calling on the political authorities, prosecutors and courts to do their duty on behalf of women, they prefer to target those who are addressing the issue, with meaningless lawsuits.”
Hundreds protested in Turkey after an anti-femicide group was charged for "activity against law and morals."— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 2, 2022
2022 has seen at least 160 femicides.
We Will Stop Femicide Platform faces shutdown and says it was targeted for publicizing "name by name ... every woman’s murder." pic.twitter.com/P2fONbc0YV
Targeting of HRDs continues
On 14th April 2022, a regional court in Istanbul confirmed the six years and three months prison sentence of human rights lawyer and co-president of the Human Rights Association (İHD) Eren Keskin for alleged "membership to an armed group" in 2021. The decision has been appealed before the Court of Cassation and HRD remains free pending trial.
On 19th April 2022, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association and founding member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV-HRFT) Öztürk Türkdoğan was acquitted of "being a member of an illegal organisation." However, he is facing two other trials on charges of "insulting" the interior minister and "insulting the Turkish nation, Republic of Turkey, state institutions and bodies”.
On 12th May 2022 the Turkish Court of Cassation approved a local court ruling and sentenced Canan Kaftancıoglu, Istanbul Provincial Leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to almost five years in prison. Kaftancıoglu was condemned because of her social media posts, including some from 10 years ago, and faced charges of “insulting a public official” and “openly degrading the state of the Republic of Turkey”, and “insulting the president.” Opposition parties condemned the decision as political and rallied in support of Kaftancioglu.
Positive ruling: Istanbul Convention
On 28th April 2022, Turkey’s State Council Prosecutor announced that Turkey's top administrative court had found that President Tayyip Erdogan’sdecision to withdraw the country from the Istanbul Convention was illegal, and asked the Council to annul the decree. The Council’s session was followed by hundreds of women’s CSOs, lawyers, MPs and bar associations, but many women and representatives of women's organisations could not enter the conference hall after they faced police obstruction. Women’s Platform for Equality, ESIK, issued a statement stating that if the decision was not annulled it will go to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
New Election law opinion
On 17th May 2022, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission published its written opinion on Turkey’s new election law, saying that “Requiring two party congresses to have taken place at national, provincial and district level before a party can take part in ensuring parliamentary elections constitutes an ‘excessive burden’ for newer parties.” It explained: “Furthermore, inadequate consultation with opposition parties and civil society before the law’s adoption reflects a lack of ‘political consensus’ for the law. The Turkish authorities attributed the adoption’s speed to the relatively limited number of changes that the law introduced and explained that ‘informal discussions’ about amendments ‘lasted for over a year’ before submission of the draft to parliament”.
According to the U.S. State Department 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey, the government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, frequently using excessive force, resulting in injuries, detentions and arrests.
Mass protest against Kavala prison sentence
On 25th April 2022, a Turkish court sentenced Turkish philanthropist and human rights activist Osman Kavala to life in prison for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government by financing the 2013 Gezi Park protests. The decision sparked harsh reactions by Turkish opposition politicians, EU officials and rights groups. Criticism was voiced by the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, and the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Tiny Kox. Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muiznieks, said that
“the verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants and their families, but to everyone who believes in justice and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond. The prosecuting authorities have repeatedly failed to provide any evidence that substantiates the baseless charges of attempting to overthrow the government. This unjust verdict shows that the Gezi trial was only an attempt to silence independent voices.”
On 26th April 2022, mass protests were held in Istanbul condemning the sentence against the HRD, which then spread nationwide. 51 protesters were detained for protests, as authorities deemed them unauthorised. On 5th May 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the sentence and asked for the immediate release of Kavala and others who were sentenced with him.
Seven activists in Turkey have been named prisoners of conscience by @amnesty, which calls the imprisonment of Osman Kavala and his co-defendants in the Gezi trial 'a chilling injustice' with massive implications for human rights in the country. https://t.co/M4Lk0KRBI3 pic.twitter.com/teqCeoERBS— Jennifer Hattam (@TheTurkishLife) June 20, 2022
Separately, on 21st May 2022, thousands of people gathered in Istanbul for a political rally organised by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) demanding human rights, freedoms and justice. The leaders of the CHP accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of corruption, political pressure and poor economic management.
On 22nd May 2022, dozens of activists, including members of opposition parties, were detained in Istanbul for protesting Turkey's offensive against the Zap, Avashin and Metina regions of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Reports highlight concerns on FOE
According to the U.S. State Department 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey, prosecution of journalists representing major opposition and independent newspapers and the jailing of journalists hindered freedom of expression. Self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticising the government could prompt reprisals.
According to the report “Defending Press Freedom in Times of Tension and Conflict”, published by the Council of Europe on 19th April 2022, Turkey reported cases including: targeted murder of a journalist; impunity for attacks against journalists; detentions and criminal prosecution of journalists; media capture and concentration of ownership; attacks on physical safety and integrity of journalists; criminalisation of journalism; and administrative harassment. Turkey was also accused of declining to engage with the work of the Platform and responding to alerts.
According to the quarterly report published by the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) on 2nd May 2022, between 1st January and 30th April 2022, Turkey saw the most cases of violations against women journalists, with a total of 63 documented cases. The most common violation was legal harassment, including seven civil lawsuits and two defamation cases. In criminal cases, charges frequently related to anti-terrorism and “insult” laws and 34 of the 42 global criminal cases were documented in Turkey.
According to the Reporters Without Borders' 2022 World Press Freedom Index, published on 3rd May 2022, Turkey ranked better than the previous year, ranking 149 out of 180, compared to 153 in 2021. However, the report notes that authoritarianism is gaining ground in the country and challenging media pluralism. 90 per cent of the national media are reported to be under government control, while all possible means are being used to undermine critics in the Turkish media.
Outrage over transfer of Khashoggi case to Saudi Arabia
On 7th April 2022, a court in Istanbul ruled to transfer the trial for the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul while he was arranging his marriage papers. The decision, which came at a time when Turkey wanted to repair relations with Saudi Arabia, shocked human rights defenders and organisations.
“Handing the case over to Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime lacking even the pretence of a free press or independent judiciary, deals a serious blow to any remaining chance of justice for Khashoggi’s killers. It will also send a chilling signal about Turkey’s own respect for the freedom of the press,” said Erol Onderoglu, representative of Reporters Without Borders in Turkey.
In a press release, Freedom House condemned the decision as one “that degrades the dignity of Turkey and the rule of law and effectively confers impunity on the Saudi regime”. On 20th April 2022, an appeal against the decision, filed by Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, was rejected by a court in Ankara. On the same day, the leader of the main Turkish opposition party, CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, condemned the ruling and accused Turkish President Erdogan of putting “a price on our honour”.
Attacks against journalists
- On 9th April 2022 the office and studio of the TV broadcaster Deniz Postası in Kayseri was raided by a mob of about 50 people, who also attacked the journalist and Sedat Kılınç, a local businessman and politician who was a guest on his show. The broadcaster frequently hosts businesspeople and politicians to discuss the daily news.
- On 11th April 2022, journalist Ergün Poyraz was attacked by a group of people in front of his house in Kuşadası and sent to intensive care. Six people were detained for this attack.
- On 12th April 2022, the contract of Demirören News Agency (DHA) journalist Zeynep Irmak Öcal was terminated after she had taken maternity leave in December 2021. DHA Sinop Representative Deniz Özen denounced the dismissal of his colleague and announced his resignation.
- On 13th April 2022, Artı Gerçek reporter Seda Taşkın received death threats on her Instagram from an account which has reportedly targeted various journalists and public figures before. Seda filed a criminal complaint against the attacker.
İnstagramdan @Teknotell_vodafone isimli hesap tarafından açıktan tehdit ediliyorum. Suç duyurusunda bulunacağımı söylediğimde ise bana "size bakacak savcı yok" diyor. Cesareti nereden aldığınızı biliyoruz.@eacarer @VodafoneTR pic.twitter.com/EmRsB1vlKh— Seda Taşkın (@sedaa_tskn) May 13, 2022
- On 18th April 2022, police in Istanbul arrested freelance journalist İbrahim Haskoloğlu for allegedly “illegally obtaining and spreading personal information” after the Turkish Interior Ministry filed a complaint against him over a Twitter thread he published on 12th April 2022 in which he claimed to be in touch with hackers who had allegedly accessed government documents connected to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, and other Turkish citizens.
- On 18th April 2022, at least a dozen journalists, including six women journalists, were assaulted in Istanbul by the police while trying to cover a press conference by the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK) and the People's Democratic Party (HDP) in commemoration of the “1 May 1977 Massacre”, an attack on left-wing protesters that killed more than 30 people.
- On 19th April 2022, Hürriyet correspondent Fırat Alkaç claimed that he had received death threats from another Turkish journalist and the chief editor of Oda TV Toygun Atilla, which has links to far-right groups. Oda TV had claimed that Alkaç and his wife were detained as part of an investigation into FETO or the Gülen movement, which, according to Atilla, Alkaç had links with. As a response, Alkaç is taking Atilla to court for what he called unfounded claims.
- On 26th April 2022, Toplumsal Haber journalist Umut Taştan was detained by police while documenting a protest in Istanbul about the Gezi Park case verdict against Osman Kavala. Police arrested him on the grounds of defying the Turkish Law of Demonstrations and Marches. During the same protests, at least eight women journalists were obstructed by the police while reporting.
gazeteci umut taştan'ın da gözaltında olduğu belirtiliyor pic.twitter.com/gQLcx7Xy9Q— dilek şen (@ddileksen) April 26, 2022
- On 26th April 2022, Turkish Cypriot journalist Sener Levent was found guilty in absentia by a Turkish court over a controversial cartoon published in 2017 insulting President Erdogan and offending the state’s military. Levent’s daily newspaper, Avrupa, is known for publishing highly critical articles about Erdogan and Turkey’s military operations in Syria. The journalist currently resides in Cyprus and is not in immediate danger of being jailed.
- On 1st May 2022, Gazete Yolculuk journalist Buse Söğütlü was assaulted and detained by police for 12 hours while covering the May Day demonstration in Istanbul. Independent journalist Derya Doğan was also obstructed by police while reporting on the same protests.
- On 3rd May 2022, journalists Burcu Karakaş and Nevşin Mengü were targeted in sexist attacks online by an anonymous user on Twitter.
- On 10th May 2022, the Turkish media regulator, Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) fined four television channels over their coverage and commentary on the verdict in the Gezi trial. The broadcasters had shown interviews with opposition lawmakers Özgür Özel and Ahmet Şık following the sentencing of the defendants in late April 2022. The fines amounted to three per cent of each station’s advertising revenue.
- On 12th May 2022, the website of news agency Etkin Haber (ETHA) was blocked for the twelfth time in 2022 by the Turkish Information Technologies and Communications Authority.
- On 18th May 2022, BirGün newspaper was ordered by a court to pay compensation to a foundation led by Erdogan’s son-in-law and his brother after it had been sued for publishing an article which claimed that the Scientific and Technological Research Institution of Turkey, TUBITAK, was giving funds to this foundation.
- On 19th May 2022 three women journalists were threatened by Islamic and nationalist groups for articles they had published.
- On 25th May 2022, journalist Reyhan Çapan and her former managing director Eren Keskin were fined 12,500 Turkish Liras (about $800) over their coverage of teenager Berkin Elvan’s killing during the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
In a welcomed development, on 5th April 2022, an appeal court overturned the six-year and three-month prison sentence given to journalist Ayşegül Doğan for “being affiliated with a terrorist organisation”. Doğan was previously sued for participating in meetings, interviews and activities with the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) executives, a union of pro-Kurdish civil society organisations.