Turkey

Mass protests over Istanbul convention as women refuse to give up, LGBTI rights targeted again

On 19th June 2021, protesters gathered on the streets of Istanbul to voice their anger at the government’s decision to withdraw from the COE Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. In a protest related to this, on 21st June 2021, six protesters were detained. In addition, women again took to the streets to protest on 1st July 2021. Police responded by setting up barricades to block protesters and used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. Despite Pride parades being banned for three years in a row, several civil society groups opposed the bans and gathered in Istanbul on 26th June 2021, under the motto “the streets are ours”. They have initiated legal proceedings against the ban and intend to continue planning their events for next year. However, authorities blocked streets, fired tear gas and arrested 25 people at the Pride march in Istanbul. Several journalist, especially women journalists, came under attack during the Pride march.
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Mass protests over Istanbul convention as women refuse to give up, LGBTI rights targeted again

Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention; journalists remain under threat

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ended the country’s participation in the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention - a landmark international treaty protecting women from violence - through a surprise overnight decree in March 2021. The decision prompted widespread demonstrations and condemnation from women’s rights groups and western countries. On 6th April 2021, four Iranian asylum seekers were detained for taking part in protests in March 2021. Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was the focal point of the international community and civil right activists during this reporting period. The trend of using the country’s terrorism law to target journalists was again noted in this period. At least ten journalists, including Reporters Without Borders Turkey’s Erol Önderoğlu were due to appear in court on terrorism related charges during April 2021. Women journalists are also increasingly under threat. Read more

Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention; journalists remain under threat

Women protesters arrested for displaying LGBTI flags, crackdown on critical voices continues

Despite police obstruction, feminists gathered on International Women’s Day (IWD) to draw attention to the unacceptably high rate of femicides and the poor representation of Turkish women in society, politics, academia and business. However, the Istanbul governorate office shut down metros, trams and funicular routes leading to the city’s famous Taksim Square, in an attempt to reduce the number of people taking part in the rallies. Turkish women have been holding protests and marches days before IWD, with nine women detained by police on 6th March 2021 for carrying LGBTI flags at a protest in Istanbul’s Kadikoy Pier Square. In a separate protest, at least eight workers have been detained in Ankara during a sit-in protest. Legal action and attacks against journalists continued during the reporting period. The government also continued its crackdown on student protesters. Read more

Women protesters arrested for displaying LGBTI flags, crackdown on critical voices continues

Student protests calling for academic freedom met with excessive force, LGBTI students targeted

The Turkish parliament approved a controversial bill which is designed to combat financing of terrorism. However, the new measures will severely restrict civic space and stifle the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs). On 4th January 2021, thousands of students from Boğaziçi University protested against the appointment of a new trustee rector. The demonstrators argued that the new trustee presented a means for Erdogan to curtail academic freedom due to their previous relations and called for student elections to decide the rector. Protests have been met with excessive force and thus far over 500 students have been detained. In addition, LGBTI students have been targeted by the authorities. Turkey’s Information and Communications Technologies Authority imposed fines on online media giants for not complying with a new digital law. In response to contentions between social media giants and the Turkish authorities, YouTube, Facebook and other platforms appointed a local representative in Turkey- raising concerns for state censorship. Read more

Student protests calling for academic freedom met with excessive force, LGBTI students targeted

Censoring critical voices: Social media giants fined; journalists, women HRDs behind bars

On 2nd October 2020, the Ministry of Interior announced as part of COVID-19 measures that activities held by NGOs, unions and cooperatives were required to be postponed until 1st December 2020. The Turkish President ordered the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) to be outlawed and its leadership prosecuted, accusing the association of terrorism after it criticised governments response to COVID-19. Several protests were staged by the association over this. In a separate development, after three waves of operations against it, eight women affiliated with Rosa Women’s Association were arrested while eight others were released on probation due to their work on womens rights. The imprisonment of journalist remains a concern with four journalists being detained following their repeated reports on an incident where two Kurdish villagers were allegedly tortured and thrown from a helicopter. In addition, journalist Ayşegül Doğan was convicted for "establishing an armed organisation" and sentenced to six years and three months in prison due to her reporting. In another act of censorship, Turkish authorities imposed fines of 10 million Turkish lira (one million Euros) to social media giants, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, for failing to comply with the new social media law. Read more

Censoring critical voices: Social media giants fined; journalists, women HRDs behind bars

Free speech under siege as government launches new unit to tackle ‘misinformation’

On 27th August 2020, lawyer Ebru Timtik died after she had been on a death fast for the right to a fair trial for 238 days. Timtik had been in detention for three years, after she and other lawyers from the People's Law Bureau were arrested in September 2017 and sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison for membership of a terrorist organisation. Human rights organisations believe that her death was preventable. In addition, , police used pepper spray and fired rubber bullets at crowds who were making their way to the city’s Gazi cemetery, where the lawyer was being laid to rest. Freedom of expression continues to remain under threat in Turkey- with journalists facing physical violence, detention, lawsuits, investigations and/or criminal complaints. In addition free speech continues to be restricted with 9,554 people being sentenced to prison terms for insulting the president in 2019 only. In a worrying development, Turkey’s president launched a new unit to wage information warfare. The purpose of the new unit was described as “taking under control any kind of manipulation and disinformation against Turkey.”


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Free speech under siege as government launches new unit to tackle ‘misinformation’

Protests over government plans to withdraw from Istanbul Convention

There have been recent debates about Turkey’s withdrawal from what is commonly known as İstanbul Convention, formally the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Experts say that this decision is related to Turkey’s “inability to accept gender equality”. This news comes at a time when Turkey faces even more violence against women due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Namely, digital violence as a form of harassment against women has become more present. The government’s intention to withdraw from the Convention has sparked protests, which saw a number of protesters being detained. In a separate development, lawyers protested a proposed bill that would "split bar associations" and silence critical institutions. Despite protests, parliament has passed the contested law. In addition, parliament also passed the social media bill which aims to further stifle freedom of expression on social media in Turkey.
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Protests over government plans to withdraw from Istanbul Convention

Expression under threat: New law to censor social media

President Erdogan announced this month that regulations to control social media will be introduced. Some articles of the draft law stipulate that “all platforms accessed by over one million users daily must appoint a legal representative in Turkey on whom courts can serve orders to take down content or block access to accounts”. Such a law may further curtail freedom of speech in Turkey and lead to strong control and censorship by the government. This adds to the already concerning situation regarding expression where, during the COVID-19 outbreak, even more journalists were detained due to their reporting on the pandemic and social media users have been interrogated and censored. In addition, doctors have also been censored for speaking out during the pandemic. Hate speech is also an increasing concern in Turkey. It is worrisome that threatening statements are often made against ordinary citizens and minority groups. Read more

Expression under threat: New law to censor social media

Further attempts to curtail freedom of expression during COVID-19

As part of the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency measures, the Turkish government enacted strong general restrictions on assembly that especially relate to the work of CSOs. With a total ban on public gatherings, citizens have turned to online spaces for creative means of protest. During COVID-19 pandemic there was an increase in journalists being jailed on charges of “causing people to panic and publishing reports on coronavirus outside the knowledge of authorities”. Moreover, the Turkish government discriminated against journalists when it announced the release of approximately 90,000 prisoners in order to relieve overcrowded prisons during the pandemic, but excluded journalists, human rights defenders and all political prisoners. Read more

Further attempts to curtail freedom of expression during COVID-19

Censorship hindering free speech "like a brick wall"

A recent report published by the Susma (Don't Remain silent) Platform, covering cases of censorship in arts and media throughout the first 10 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. Read more

Censorship hindering free speech "like a brick wall"