Thirteen international free expression and media freedom defenders yesterday filed a brief with the European Court of Human Rights supporting a challenge by journalists and administrators from Turkey’s independent daily Cumhuriyet to their lengthy pre-trial detention on charges of allegedly supporting terrorists.
ARTICLE 19, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP), the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) jointly intervened in the case.
The journalists and administrators are currently on trial facing potential prison sentences ranging from seven-and-a-half to 43 years in jail. They are charged with aiding terrorist groups in a case widely derided by international observers as a politically motivated effort to punish the paper for its coverage and send a clear message to others about criticising the government or President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Yesterday’s brief argued that “the detention and prosecution of journalists on the basis merely of the content of their publications should be subject to the strictest scrutiny” to ensure that states cannot use emergencies to deliberately violate the European Convention on Human Rights’ guarantees of the rights to personal liberty and security, and to free expression.
The intervenors also contended that using criminal law deliberately and arbitrarily to target independent media violated the Convention’s prohibition on using pretexts to improperly restrict the rights it guarantees. They finally argued that states that seek to set aside obligations under the Convention in an emergency must show “an extreme legal and factual situation”.
More than 150 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, the most anywhere in the world, and international observers argue that a large majority were targeted due to their work.
The application to the ECHR involves Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and eight others from Cumhuriyet who were detained near the end of October 2016; six were released nine months later, at the close of the first week of trial proceedings in July, and columnist Kadri Gürsel was freed in late September. However, Sabuncu and Akin Atalay, head of the foundation that owns the paper, remain behind bars.
Yesterday’s filing was the first of a series of briefs that the intervenors plan to file with the ECHR in a number of other journalists’ similar challenges to their pre-trial detention in Turkey.