I am dismayed at the sentencing of Murat Çelikkan on 15 May to 18 months in prison on terrorist propaganda charges for acting as a symbolic co-editor of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. A prominent Turkish human rights defender, Murat Çelikkan has made invaluable contributions to my Office and the Council of Europe as co-director of Hakikat Adalet Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Center), notably on issues relating to missing persons.
His conviction provides a worrying illustration of a continuing trend of judicial actions targeting human rights defenders and an increasingly wide range of other civil society actors, on which I have expressed my concerns in a recent Memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey. Numerous other journalists and human rights defenders have been prosecuted for their participation in the Editor-in-Chief on Watch campaign of the said newspaper, which has since been closed down under the state of emergency.
Criminal prosecutions and convictions of human rights defenders for conduct that should be covered by freedom of expression creates a chilling effect on the exercise of such freedom and effectively prevents human rights defenders from pursuing their invaluable work. I call once more on the Turkish authorities to urgently ensure that judicial practice concerning freedom of expression in Turkey is fully aligned with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.