Majority of detentions, prosecutions of journalists in Turkey unsubstantiated – Commissioner Muižnieks

Majority of detentions, prosecutions of journalists in Turkey unsubstantiated – Commissioner Muižnieks

Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, on October 10 submitted a report to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the situation in Turkey with regard to freedom of speech and journalists’ rights violations, in which he expresses concern for the situation in the country, following last year’s failed coup attempt that resulted in the detention of employees of many publications and media organs on terrorism charges.

More particularly, the report states, according to TGS (Journalists’ Union of Turkey), TGC (Journalists Association of Turkey) and DİSK (Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey), 210 journalists have been detained and prosecuted as alleged members of various terrorist groups – not taking into account the huge numbers of journalists taken into custody, questioned and released under judicial control during this period – following the declaration of the state of emergency, almost exclusively on the basis of their statements, which were deemed by the authorities to coincide with the aims of a terrorist organisation.

“The majority of the criminal proceedings against journalists were initiated on the basis of unsubstantiated charges and with no factual evidence other than their purely journalistic activities”, Muižnieks indicates, stressing that Turkey was violating the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides the right to freedom of expression and information.

The Commissioner’s findings during his April and September 2016 visits not only confirmed the concerns of his predecessor but also revealed that the problems identified had become more pronounced and prevalent.

In this respect, the Commissioner observed in his Memorandum that despite the limited attempts of the government to bring Turkish legislation into line with the Convention, most of the problematic provisions in the Turkish Criminal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act remain dangerously vague, having underwent superficial amendments or none at all, thus failing to address the underlying issues.

The vagueness of these criminal provisions, on the security of the state and terrorism in particular, are prone to arbitrary application “due to their vague formulation and the overly broad interpretation of the concepts of terrorist propaganda and support for a terrorist organization, including to statements and persons that clearly do not incite violence”, Muižnieks says in his report.

As regards the justification of detention, the Commissioner recalls that even though the existence of a reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed a criminal offence is a prerequisite for pre-trial detention, it is not sufficient in itself to justify continued detention.

The commissioner in his report also expresses concern over the role of the judiciary in the targeting of dissenting voices, citing figures provided by the Turkish ministry of Justice, which indicate that the number of requests for detention on remand by prosecutors for Articles 216 (provoking the public to hatred and hostility), 220 §§ 6 and 7 (committing an offence on behalf of an organised criminal group and aiding it), 301 (degrading the Turkish nation, the organs and institutions of state) and 314 (membership of an armed organisation) increased more than three-fold from 2013 to 2015. The number of court decisions granting detention requests increased almost four-fold (from 1 099 to 3 732) over the same period. Added to this is the closure of media organs which are perceived as opposition by the government.

“Although freedom of expression may be legitimately curtailed in the interests of national security, territorial integrity and public safety, those restrictions must still be justified by relevant and sufficient reasons and respond to a pressing social need in a proportionate manner,” Muižnieks said, citing a judgment of the ECHR in another decision handed this year./IBNA