Respect and protection of freedom of expression vital for the progress of democracy in Turkey

Strasbourg, 12/07/11  – “Despite the progress made by Turkey in recent years regarding free and open debates on previously sensitive issues, the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom remains particularly worrying. Urgent measures are needed to uphold these rights and foster a more tolerant atmosphere towards criticism and dissent” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing today a report on Turkey.

The Commissioner welcomes recent changes to the Turkish Constitution, which are likely to have a positive effect on freedom of expression and media freedom. He considers, however, that the letter and spirit of the present Constitution continue to hinder the full respect of pluralism and freedom of expression. He therefore encourages the Turkish authorities to ensure that the planned constitutional reform addresses these obstacles.

Likewise, the Criminal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act continue to seriously impede freedom of expression in Turkey. “Provisions of these pieces of legislation have been used to disproportionately limit freedom of expression, including of journalists, broadcasters and publishers. The amendments adopted so far by Turkey have not been sufficient in dealing with the root causes of numerous violations of the right to freedom of expression found by the European Court of Human Rights.” The Commissioner expresses his particular concern about the use of civil and criminal defamation provisions, and invites public figures to refrain from initiating defamation proceedings which have serious chilling effects on media freedom.

The Commissioner also finds that the overly restrictive attitude of judges and prosecutors has been a serious impediment to the efforts to improve freedom of expression. “Courts and prosecutors do not always interpret and apply existing statutory provisions with due respect to the principle of proportionality and the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning freedom of expression. The authorities should notably introduce into the Turkish legal system the defences of truth and public interest when assessing the criminal responsibility of journalists.”

Commissioner Hammarberg calls on Turkey to effectively address the serious, long-standing dysfunctions within the Turkish judicial system affecting also freedom of expression. The excessive length of criminal proceedings and of pre-trial detentions, problems concerning defendants’ access to evidence against them pending trial, and the lack of restraint on the part of prosecutors in filing criminal cases adversely affect freedom of expression and lead to self-censorship in Turkish media. The Commissioner urges the Turkish authorities to address these problems through legislative and practical measures, as well as through systematic training and awareness-raising activities within the justice system.

The Commissioner considers that a review by the Turkish authorities of the Internet Act and the Radio and Television Act is also urgently needed. He considers in particular that systematic Internet censorship and the blocking of websites by competent administrative authorities is beyond what is necessary in a democratic society.

Finally, recalling notably the murder of the writer Hrant Dink, the Commissioner urges the authorities to step up their efforts to effectively protect journalists from violence and intimidation. He also recommends addressing the precarious working conditions of many journalists, in particular investigative ones, and putting an end to the systematic violation of labour rights of media professionals.

The Turkish authorities’ comments are appended to the Commissioner’s report.

Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37;   

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