Press freedom 'under attack' in Erdogan's Turkey

Press freedom 'under attack' in Erdogan's Turkey
4 min read
01 October, 2015
Analysis: Freedom of the press has been hit hard in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on supporters of the opposition Hizmet Movement.
Karakas has sat on the European Court of Human Rights since 2008 [Getty]

A Turkish judge on the European Court of Human Rights has launched a scathing attack on her country's record on freedom of the press.

"Turkey had the image of a country where torture was tolerated; I am happy to say that this image no longer exists, [but] what replaced it?" Isıl Karakas said, according to Today's Zaman.

"The image of a country where freedom of the press and freedom of speech are not protected, the internet is blocked and lawsuits are continuously being filed against people for insulting the president. Such practices do not exist in Europe."

Karakas, who has served on the court since 2008 and was recently elected as the court's vice-president, was harshly critical of the law criminalising insulting the president.

"There is no such thing anywhere else in Europe. I mean insults are not regulated in criminal law," she said.

More than 100 people have been charged with insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he was elected last year

More than 100 people have been charged with insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he was elected last year, according to the Turkish news site.

Targeting the Gulen movement

A recent report written by senior British lawyers and commissioned by a prominent opposition leader concluded the Turkish government had committed serious violations of liberty and security against members of the police, judiciary and media who were believed to support the opposition.

According to A Report on the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights in Turkey since December 2013, written by a committee led by Lord Woolf, the UK's former lord chief justice, approximately 40,000 police officers, civil servants, judges and public prosecutors have been removed from their posts in the past two years.

They were understood to support the moderate Islamic Hizmet movement of Erdogan's exiled former ally, Fethullah Gulen - who commissioned the report.

The report said there were grounds for serious concern that many of Erdogan's opponents had suffered serious violations of their rights, from the right to liberty and security to their right to a fair trial and the right not to be subject to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.

The split between Erdogan's Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Gulen's Hizmet movement was caused by the highly public December 2013 investigations into widespread official corruption involving both low and high-ranking AKP officials, and the sons of three cabinet ministers.

The corruption investigation is believed to have been sparked by the Hizmet movement's widespread influence on the police and judiciary.

Erdogan denounced the investigation, describing it as an "attempted assassination" and a "judicial coup".

"What they wanted to do was an attempted assassination of the national will," he said at a meeting in Istanbul, which was later broadcast on 4 January 2014.

On 7 January, 350 police officers, including the chiefs of the units dealing with financial crimes, smuggling and organised crime, were removed from their positions by government decree.

Speaking at the time, Gulen described the dismissals as a "purge".

Erdogan said the investigation was an 'attempted assassination' and a 'judicial coup'

Purging the system

Thousands more have since been removed from their positions, and some have been charged with criminal offences.

Prosecutors involved in the 2013 corruption investigations have been detained and subsequently disbarred by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors for "damaging the influence and reputation of their public posts".

In May this year, two judges were detained in custody because of what the report described as "decisions made in the proper exercise of their judicial duties", charged with "attempting to overthrow the Turkish government or hindering the government's operation in part or full" and with membership of an armed organisation.

Targeting the media

Media personalities who spoke out against corruption, the government and the subsequent crackdown have also been targeted.

Freedom of expression has been curtailed through political and financial pressure on journalists and publications, and by the filing of criminal charges against outspoken journalists and publications, according to the report.

Last week, Gultekin Avci, a columnist at Bugun Daily, was arrested because of alleged links to the Hizmet Movement, BGN News reported.

Seven of his columns on the Iranian-backed terrorist organisation Tawhid Salam were submitted as evidence he was attempting to "topple the government" and had engaged in "acts of espionage", Today's Zaman reported.

In January this year, Turkey had more cases lodged against it in the European Court of Human Rights over violations of the right to freedom of expression than the other 46 states in the Council of Europe combined, Today's Zaman reported.

Turkey had 24 of 47 violations lodged with the court. Hungary was second with seven.