Today, ARTICLE 19 released a report summarising findings from a three-day fact-finding mission to Istanbul, conducted by representatives of international media freedom and civil society organisations on 31 August – 2 September 2016, six weeks after the Turkish government invoked a state of emergency in response to the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016.
The coup attempt, in which nearly 250 people were killed, traumatised Turkish society. Had those behind the coup attempt not been defeated, the consequences for Turkey’s stability, prosperity and democratic development would have been dire. The government has the right and responsibility to bring those responsible for the coup attempt to account; and the imposition of a state of emergency may well be a legitimate response to a threat of this magnitude.
However, the government is now abusing the state of emergency to severely restrict the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, to stifle criticism and limit the diversity of views, perspectives and opinions available in the public sphere within Turkey. Restrictions on the media are not a new phenomenon in Turkey, but in response to the failed coup, the breadth and scope of the crackdown on media freedom has intensified dramatically, with measures of an unprecedented scale now being justified on the grounds of ensuring stability.
Media workers and other government critics are being arrested and harassed, and independent newspapers and broadcasters are being forced to close.
During the first six weeks of the state of emergency, pursuant to the decrees outlined above, over 100 media outlets had been closed, leaving over 2,300 journalists and media workers without jobs. At least 89 journalists have been arrested, bringing the total number of media workers detained on official charges, believed to be related to their exercise of the right to freedom of expression, to 121. These numbers exclude countless other journalists who are currently in detention in police holding cells, or have been detained and released without charge during the state of emergency, as well those for whom detention warrants have been issued but have not yet been detained.
At almost every meeting during the 3-day fact-finding mission, the delegation was alerted to new cases of detentions or arrests; with several interviewees stressing that it was impossible to gain an accurate figure of those detained, due to the speed of arrests and a lack of official information.
Such measures have a disastrous chilling effect upon the free flow of information and ideas, depriving the population of the right to receive information about current events and to hold the government to account. Even those that have not been directly silenced by the state are forced into self-censorship, with only a handful of beleaguered independent outlets continuing to express alternative viewpoints. In this environment, the government is able to almost entirely dominate Turkey’s public discourse, while alternative viewpoints must be actively sought out.
In parallel to the right of the media to seek and impart information and ideas, the right of the public to receive information about current events and the actions of the public authorities – including in a critical perspective – is of utmost importance in times of emergency and disarray.
Please consider signing this petition, initiated by our partner PUNTO 24, calling for the release of the 121 journalists currently in jail in Turkey.