MESOP FLASH II : New Amnesty report says freedom of expression still restricted in Turkey

24 May 2013 /TODAYSZAMAN.COM, İSTANBUL – Human rights group Amnesty International has said in its recent report that freedom of expression is still restricted in Turkey despite limited legislative reforms in the country, examining a number of cases where it says freedom of expression was violated.

In the report, titled “Annual Report 2013, the state of the world’s human rights” and released on Thursday, the rights group said although the Turkish Parliament had passed a series of reforms as part of the “Third Judicial Package,” which abolished or amended several laws used to limit freedom of expression, the reforms did not amend the definitions of offenses used to limit freedom of expression, including, notably, those contained in anti-terrorism legislation.

“Little progress was made in addressing the restrictions on freedom of expression in the media and more widely in civil society. Criminal prosecutions frequently targeted non-violent dissenting opinions, particularly on controversial political issues and criticism of public officials and institutions. Dissenting opinions related to issues of Kurdish rights and politics were foremost of those subjected to criminal prosecution,” the group said. Amnesty International also examined a number of cases in Turkey in which it says freedom of expression was violated, including that of conscientious objector Halil Savda who was imprisoned for “alienating the public from military service” under Article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK); that of Fazıl Say, who was prosecuted for “publicly insulting religious values” in tweets he posted mocking religious individuals and Islamic conceptions of heaven; that of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, who were released after being held in custody before trial for 375 days for “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization”; and that of academics Ragıp Zarakolu and Büşra Ersanlı, who were prosecuted for membership in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization encompassing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

The report also criticized Turkey for excessive force used by police to break up peaceful demonstrations; investigations into and prosecutions of alleged human rights abuses by state officials, which it says were flawed; and the pattern of “unfair trials” under anti-terrorism legislation.

“Bomb attacks claimed the lives of civilians. No progress was made in recognizing the right to conscientious objection or in outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The number of refugees from Syria seeking shelter in Turkey reached almost 150,000. Turkey adopted stronger legal protections to combat violence against women and girls but existing mechanisms were inadequately implemented in practice,” Amnesty International added in its survey of developments before examining a number of cases concerning the topics mentioned above. On torture and ill treatment in official places of detention, the report said in March boys held at Pozantı prison in the southern province of Adana were transferred, following allegations that prison officials had subjected them to abuse, including sexual abuse. Concerning unfair trials, the rights group gave the case of university student Cihan Kırmızıgül as an example. Kırmızıgül was released from prison in March following 25 months in pre-trial detention. In May, he was convicted of criminal damage and “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization”. He was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison. The conviction was based on his wearing of a traditional scarf that matched those worn by people alleged to have taken part in a demonstration where Molotov cocktails were thrown. The group further criticized the deadlocked constitutional exercise in Turkey. “Discussions regarding the adoption of a new constitution continued throughout the year but with little evidence of consensus among the political parties or effective engagement with civil society,” it said in the report. Commenting on the state of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Amnesty International stated that the Turkish government failed to adopt promised legislation protecting the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers in its territory. Tens of thousands of people fleeing violence and persecution in Syria have crossed the border to seek refuge in Turkey. Government figures cited by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, showed that at the end of 2012 there were more than 148,000 refugees from Syria being accommodated in 14 camps, mostly in border provinces.