The members of the International Press Institute (IPI), meeting at their 66th Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on May 20, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on Turkey to free imprisoned journalists and to restore judicial independence and the rule of law.
In the wake of the bloody 15 July 2016 coup attempt that Turkey’s government blames on U.S.-based cleric and former-ally-turned-rival Fethullah Gülen, authorities have pursued an unprecedented and wide-ranging crackdown on perceived critics and opponents in which hundreds of thousands of individuals – including judges, lawyers, members of the security services, journalists, academics and others – have been dismissed from jobs or detained under wide-ranging emergency powers.
Over 160 journalists and media workers are currently behind bars, including approximately 135 imprisoned since the coup, and 170 media outlets have been shuttered. The vast majority of journalists held are accused of supporting “terrorists”. However, the allegations are generally shifting, contradictory and illogical, and cite journalists’ news reporting or other writings criticising the government. The case targeting journalists from Cumhuriyet, including IPI Executive Board Member Kadri Gürsel and IPI members Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şik, among others, is of particular concern.
Journalists held for months in pre-trial detention are punished without conviction, in many cases having been given little information on charges or evidence against them. They face arbitrary restrictions on contact with counsel and their families, frustrating their ability to mount a legal defence and isolating them from the outside world.
The purge’s impact has been compounded by a collapse in judicial independence and the rule of law, with significant elements of the judiciary having come under the direct control of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in recent years. Fear also exists that constitutional changes adopted in a recent referendum giving Erdoğan vast new powers over all branches of government will lead to greater political control of the judiciary and further undercut the rule of law.
Expressing deep concern that the decline in respect for media freedom and human rights in Turkey poses an existential threat to the future of the country’s democracy, IPI members called on the Turkish government to release all journalists or others detained for engaging in free expression or sharing news or other public interest information, and to drop all charges against them.
IPI members also called on Turkey’s government to restore judicial independence and the rule of law, and to allow journalists to question government policy and freely investigate public interest issues without reprisal. They further called on lawmakers in Turkey to reform overly-broad anti-terrorism law, to ensure that journalists facing criminal charges are afforded due process and to end arbitrary restrictions targeting journalists behind bars more harshly than other prisoners.
Finally, IPI members Turkey’s international partners to press it to uphold its human rights commitments and to recognise that derogations ostensibly intended to serve short-term security or economic interests risk severely exacerbating those same challenges over the long term.