Council of Europe urges Turkey to restore freedoms
by Roni Alasor
Brussels, 15 February 2017 - Middle East Diplomatic (MED) - Council of Europe urges Turkey to restore freedom of expression and media freedom in order to protect the basic democratic rights in the society.
According the last report of Human Rights Commission of Council of Europe the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom significantly worsened in Turkey. The 25-page Memorandum notes that “The closure of more than 150 media organisations since the coup attempt and the continuous detention of around 150 journalists had the huge chilling effect on the state of fundamental rights in Turkey".
"The impact on press freedom affects the use of so many other fundamental rights like right to have fair trials, fair elections... the measures taken by the executive created also very serious damages to these basic democratic rights", said Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks in an interview with the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).
According Commissioner Muižnieks, "positive changes are possible when there is a political will to go for it. We have a slow but good dialogue and cooperation with Turkish authorities but with very little change on the ground so far."
The 25-page Memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey includes the following concrete recommendations to the Turkish government:
-Lift the current state of emergency and reverse the numerous unacceptable infringements of freedom of expression, and in particular media and academic freedoms that it engendered.
-Completely overhaul the Criminal Code and the Anti-Terrorism law so as to align law and practice with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.
-Change a judicial culture where judges and prosecutors interpret and apply laws in a way that consistently undermines freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey.
-Defamation, in particular of public officials, should no longer be a criminal offence but, where absolutely necessary, could be subject to proportionate civil sanctions only.
-Serious review of the criminal judges of the peace who appear to have quickly transformed into an instrument of harassment to stifle opposition and legitimate criticism of the Turkish government.
-Prosecutors and courts must stop using criminal procedures, and in particular detention on demand, to punish and discourage the exercise of freedom of expression, including on the Internet, where there is an absence of direct, incontrovertible evidence establishing criminal wrongdoing and membership of a criminal organisation, in particular when the only basis is the content of journalistic writings or perceived affiliation based on spurious evidence.
-The overly wide application of the concept of terrorist propaganda and support of a terrorist organisation, including to statements and persons that clearly do not incite violence, reflects a mistaken belief that restricting freedom of expression in violation of international human rights norms will help solve these problems. Violence and the threat to use violence is the defining component of the concept of “terrorism”, which must not be used as a catch-all label to punish statements that do not contain these elements, even when these statements are non-consensual, shocking or politically embarrassing.
-To change course and start separating what is a terrorist action from criticism and dissent, and to display the responsibility and tolerance expected in a democratic society.