Show trials in Turkey – and a plan of action

On 18 September, a meeting sponsored by the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers condemned the recent trials of lawyers and journalists in Turkey. The meeting – held in London – went on to set up a co-coordinating group to build a stronger solidarity campaign.

I joined a panel of speakers that included Margaret Owen, barrister and member of the Bar Human Rights Committee; Ali Has, a solicitor, who attended the lawyers’ trial in Turkey in July; and Tony Simpson, a member of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and editor of The Spokesman.

The meeting was chaired by Professor Bill Bowing from Birkbeck College and President of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights.
What follows is my speech to the meeting. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is a regional organisation of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It represents the interests of journalists’ unions and their members. The EFJ is Europe’s largest organisation of journalists, representing about 260,000 journalists in over thirty countries.

The EFJ fights for social and professional rights of journalists working in all sectors of the media. It is recognised by the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the European Trade Union Confederation as the representative voice of journalists in Europe. The EFJ has its headquarters in Brussels.

So the EFJ is in a unique position to campaign on behalf of our journalist colleagues in Turkey, who face repression on a massive scale. In the words of a Guardian comment piece earlier this year, ‘Turkey leaves China standing when it comes to jailing journalists’.

The campaign run by the EFJ covers a great deal of ground. As a part of this continuing work, the EFJ invited other international organisations to participate in a press freedom mission to Turkey on 22-24 November 2011. The aim was to make the view of these international organisations clear to the Turkish government and politicians, as well as to show support for the immediate release of 63 Turkish journalists who had been jailed because of their work.

On 22 November 2011, the trial of ten detained journalists opened in Turkey and the EFJ joined with the Turkish Freedom for Journalists Platform (an umbrella group of nearly 100 local journalist organisations) to demand that the charges be dropped and the journalists released.

The EFJ has also taken up these issues in the European parliament and with the Commission. It noted a report by the Commission (the Commission Staff Working Paper Turkey 2011 Progress Report) in connection with the possible admission of Turkey into the EU. The report stated that ‘Pre-trial detention is not limited to circumstances where it is strictly necessary in the public interest. In some terror-related cases, defendants and their lawyers have not been permitted access to incriminating evidence early in the proceedings. Frequent use of arrest instead of judicial supervision, leaks of information, evidence or statements, limited access to files, failure to give detailed grounds for detention decisions and revision of such decisions raised concerns …’

As you will be aware, the possibility of Turkey joining the EU seems a long way off. There is hostility from some countries with EU and the Turkish government itself is less keen on the idea.

As part of the EFJ’s campaign, we are urging our affiliates to ‘adopt’ a journalist in prison. This involves showing solidarity and support for an individual journalist until his/her release by following news on his/her case, corresponding with the journalist in jail and highlighting the case to members.

Here, the NUJ adopted Muyesser Yildiz, a journalist from the website Odatv, a site for critical and investigative journalism. We raised her case in parliament through Labour MP Katy Clark. In reply the minster from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that the Government had made representations to the Turkish authorities over the issue of detentions in Turkey. David Reddaway, the UK’s ambassador to Turkey, raised the issue with senior officials from the Turkish ministry of Justice earlier this year. The government has urged the Turkish government to pursue a comprehensive reform strategy that fulfils their international commitments on human rights and freedom of expression. We need to step up the pressure on the government through further questions, an early day motion and even a debate in either or both Houses. Publicity is key in spreading the campaign message and we need to get greater media coverage about the plight of journalists, lawyers and other workers in Turkey who are facing repression and denied the right to organise.

Finally a few words on the trials that were resumed last week. The outcome is bad for journalism and the right to report and the Turkish peoples’ right to know. I have circulated a detailed statement issued by the EFJ yesterday. Putting it mildly, there is a general feeling that justice will not be served in these courts. The report can be found on the EFJ website at: http://europe.ifj.org/en/articles/international-groups-express-alarm-over-deteriorating-media-freedom-in-turkey

Let me finish with the demands made at the end of the statement. We:

  • repeat concerns over the worsening situation of media freedom in Turkey, where there continues, apparently, to be the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world;
  • maintain our request for the immediate release of imprisoned journalists in Turkey;
  • condemn proceedings that seek to criminalise independent journalism;
  • insist that Turkish lawmakers enact real reforms that provide strong guarantees of media freedom that align with international standards, including changes in legislation to drop cases opened against journalists under the umbrella of the anti-terror law and the Turkish penal code, and the abolition of special courts that apply overly-restrictive procedural rules; and
  • demand that Turkey provides journalists facing criminal charges with fair trials and access to due process.

These are the tasks before us. Thank you for listening.

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