Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği-IHD), an NGO based in Ankara, has recently published a report on the status of the freedom of expression in Turkey. The 380-pages long report* “Freedom of Expression 2017” is prepared with the support of the Embassy of Norway in Ankara.

The report particularly aims to reveal the legislation that limit/restrict the freedom of expression in Turkey and to explain the prosecutors’ approach to the related cases. It provides information on the freedom of expression related laws and addresses the questions of the ambiguity of the definition of terrorism, censorship, arbitrary detention and prolonged cases, restrictions on freedom of assembly, detained members of parliament and mayors, using the cases related to insulting the President as a means for supressing the freedom of expression, and draconian emergency law practices.

In order to provide a better understanding of the current situation, the report includes the texts of indictments relating to cases such as Özgür Gündem Daily, Academicians for Peace, Cumhuriyet Daily, Zaman Daily, Altan Brothers and Nazlı Ilıcak. Documents and statements of international institutions and observers are also provided.

The report also gives a list of detained or arrested journalists before or after the 15 July coup attempt with charges related or not related to the coup attempt.

Among many findings of the report, one that points to the further restrictive interpretation by the authorities of already problematic laws in the field of freedom of expression is a source of grave concern. Additionally, the finding that the prosecutors and judges consider their main mission as protecting the state interests, not the rule of law and democracy explains the mind-set that underpins the daring attitudes of the grave human rights abusers in Turkey today.

Some findings of the report are as follows:

– There are regulations in the fields of the freedom of press and expression which are incompatible with international instruments in at least 17 laws, in the statute of the Parliament and also in the post-coup attempt emergency law decrees.

– There are also regulations limiting the right of access to information. The terms “secret” or “state secret” are used in 32 laws with no clear definition. In practice, “state secret” is considered as anything that is regarded as such by the authority which holds the information in question.

– There are at least 44 articles in the Penal Code that are problematic for freedom of expression. The laws have to be structurally clear and predictable; and in conformity with the principle of the rule of law. The Turkish Penal Code lacks all these characteristics.

– The definition of terrorism is too vague and broad. This serves to the restriction of freedom. The fact that even this definition is being further broadened in practice generates many problems in the investigations and prosecutions.

– As of 10 March 2017, 158 journalists/writers are imprisoned, over one hundred thousand web pages are blocked, around twenty thousand social media accounts are under investigation. Thousands are being arrested or detained because of what they share through their accounts.

– Prosecutors take the charges brought by the police as granted and they do not analyse or question their conformity with the laws and related international instruments.

– In the indictments, prosecutors only copy the related articles, but they do not explain why the expressions or statements in question constitute breach of the law. The context in which the opinion is expressed is not taken into consideration. Whether the expressions or statements in question contain violence is not given thought.

– European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the decisions of the ECtHR are rarely mentioned in the indictments and in a general manner. Conformity to the Article 10 of the ECHR was never discussed.

– Prosecutors and judges see their main mission as protecting the interests of the state, instead of protecting the human rights of the individuals, rule of law and democracy.

Please click to read the full report

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