Censorship hindering free speech "like a brick wall"

Expression

A recent report published by the Susma (Don't Remain silent) Platform, covering cases of censorship in arts and media throughout the first ten months of 2019 highlighted several restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey. In particular, the report noted that Turkish authorities have used measures such as arresting and prosecuting journalists, blocking access to online news content, temporarily suspending broadcasting or taking programmes off air as well as dismissing journalists. The report also outlined the chilling impact of these restrictions through self-censorship and the withdrawal of statements by public institutions of news reports which contradict state policies or criticise the government. In the report, Susma commented on what Turkish activists witnessed in 2019, by saying:

"It seems that this intensity and volume of restrictions do more than just strengthen and extend the scope of censorship practices, which have already become systematic at the hands of the state, through various mechanisms, actors and methods; they also normalise self-censorship that hinders free speech like a brick wall."

Below are some emblematic examples which capture charges levelled at activists and media workers: 

  • Charging cartoonist Nuri Kurtcebe with a prison sentence of up to four years for ‘insulting public officials’ in a Facebook post where the cartoonist describes three politicians as “the monkeys of Uncle Sam [referring to the US] with blood on their hands”;
  • Sentencing İsmail Çoban, editor in chief of the Kurdish Daily (the only Kurdish daily newspaper published in Turkey until it was closed by authorities in 2016), to seven years and six months in prison on terror charges. Three testimonies given by “witnesses” regarding his alleged membership of a terrorist organisation. Two of the witnesses were annonymous;
  • Police raiding the family home of Medine Gümüş, editor-in-chief of the Radyo Dunya (which was closed in 2016) on accusations of "propaganda for a terrorist organisation";
  • Imposing a ten-day ban on advertising (one of the main revenue sources for most newspapers in Turkey) on the leftist Evrensel newspaper following a report critical of Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency’s (BİK) which alleged unwarranted pressure and bias against  against Kurdish-language publications.

According to a list compiled by the online platform Jailed Journos, more than 100 journalists and media workers were in jail at the turn of 2020 in Turkey. The vast majority of these cases are due to terror related charges or over alleged Gülen links, due to their journalistic activities and reports.

In view of the increasing repression and attacks on journalists in Turkey and the need for solidarity, on 4th January 2020, the Dicle-Firat Journalists' Association (Dicle Fırat Gazeteciler Derneği, DFG) was founded with the aim to defend the professional values and the rights of journalists. According to the first monthly report on press freedom, the situation for press freedom continues to deteriorate every single day. In the report, the DFG commented: 

"Repression against journalists has continued in the first month of 2020. Media workers are being obstructed in their work, accused and condemned...Media institutions are attacked and obstructed, journalists are dismissed, and press cards of almost a thousand journalists have been cancelled. The aim of this policy is to silence all opposition voices". 

The report also states that the judicial reform package adopted in 2019 has not brought about any changes for media freedom in Turkey. Instead, Turkish authorities have expanded their grip on media freedom by closing spaces for plurality of opinion. 

In a positive development, the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court in Turkey has ruled that the Turkish authorities blockage of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, was a violation of freedom of expression. After the verdict, Wikipedia was reopened by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) after two years and eight months of being blocked in Turkey.

In addition, the Mardin 2nd Heavy Penal Court ruled that social media likes alone cannot be considered as "propagandising for a terrorist organisation". This is a positive ruling, as in the past, posts on social media by activists and media workers have been used as justification for prosecution. Despite this positive development, Turkish President Erdoğan called social media a “garbage dump” and described it as “an uncontrolled platform where people are swindled, lynched and abused”, while mentioning the need for increased control by saying that “keeping [Turkey’s] electronic systems and data safe is just as important as the safety of [Turkey's] borders”.

Association

As a result of the failed coup in 2016, mass arrests in Turkey have continued even in 2020, with 1768 suspects being detained in January over alleged links to the Gülen movement. In its World Report 2020, global INGO Human Rights Watch stated that “the prolonged and arbitrary detention of journalists, human rights defenders and politicians blights Turkey's claims of being a country that respects human rights and the rule of law”.

Peaceful Assembly

Almost a hundred women came together in Antalya to join the protest organised by the Antalya Women’s Platform. The women held a banner that read “We want to live” as protesters mobilised against male violence and sexual assaults by performing the Las Tesis dance. However, the police intervened before the protesters could complete their protest dance. Despite the efforts of women’s rights organisations to raise awareness about the increased violence against women, the high number of femicides in the country persists.