Organizations Urge U.N. To Take Action Against Free Speech Violations in Turkey

Several free speech organizations recently submitted a formal statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, calling for action to be taken to fix the “major deterioration” of free expression in Turkey.

Earlier this month groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN International, and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), to name a few, drafted a written statement to the U.N. council with the intent of shedding further light on the alarming rise of human rights violations in the country of Turkey, as well as to propose several recommendations to “halt violations against civilians.”

The alarming state of free expression in Turkey isn’t new, but an increase in prosecutorial action being taken by the Turkish government against cartoonists and journalists in recent months has caught the attention of the international community.

Just this past month, two Turkish journalists were sentenced to two years in prison after a criminal complaint was filed by 1,280 citizens, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for republishing a post-attack Charlie Hebdo cover depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Convicted of “openly encouraging hate and enmity among people via the press,” the sentence confirmed that journalism and the use of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook in Turkey has become a dangerous act. “Across the country the authorities are increasingly intolerant of political opposition, public protest, and critical media, while government interference has undermined judicial independence and the rule of law,” reads the statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council. It continues:

Media ownership has been transformed, leading to a dominance of pro-government media in the country; intimidation, firing of critical journalists and denial of accreditation to foreign reporters have further eroded independent reporting. Restrictive laws have been deployed to arrest and prosecute journalists, while media groups who criticise the government have been fined.

Citing concerns about the government’s proactive — and often legal — involvement in regulating media content it deems injurious and critical to its public appearance, as well as the installment of policies that directly impede free expression, the statement notes that since 2014, more than 2,000 popele have been prosecuted for “insulting” President Erdoğan.

Due to the gravity of the situation, free speech groups are calling for the U.N. to hold a special session “to assess and address the tragic situation of the civilians under curfew and to take all necessary steps to halt violations against civilians.” From a call to release all wrongfully imprisoned writers and journalists and the appeal of the numerous restrictive laws, to the international community holding Turkey responsible for upholding their citizens’ right to freedom of expression, the statement outlines several recommendations for how the international community can assist in restoring and maintaining basic human rights to the Turkish population.

“Freedom of expression — a right enshrined in Turkey’s constitution — is the cornerstone of a democratic and fair society,” we are reminded. “For a society to be open, free and diverse, individuals must be able to live without fear of reprisals or censorship for what they believe or express.”

To read the full statement submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, click here.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!