A scathing report commissioned by one of President Erdogan’s exiled opponents states that the Turkish government is inflicting “systematic human rights violations” on its judiciary, police and media. The 95 page report alleges that the AK party (Justice and Development Party) government has interfered to produce “supine” courts, censored websites, restricted freedom of expression, stifled corruption investigations and subjected detainees to degrading treatment.
Written by Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, Sir Edward Garnier QC, the Conservative MP and former solicitor general, Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, the director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and Sarah Palin, a barrister specialising in media law, the report was funded by the US-based Journalist and Writers Foundation, whose honorary chair is the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen 74 – a former ally of Erdogan, living in exile in the United States, who has become strong critic. Last December a Turkish court issued a warrant for his arrest.
The lawyers’ report focuses on Gülen’s Hizmet movement and claims that his followers have suffered systematic purges that have removed as many as 40,000 employees from public positions, led to mass arrests and in some cases periods of detention.
Published just days before the Ankara bombing outrage which left over 100 peace demonstrators dead and many more injured, the report’s starting point is an analysis of actions taken by the Turkish authorities since the December 2013 corruption scandal and investigation into Erdogan’s close circle was revealed and concentrates on the attacks made on the movement. Of course before this date there were tens of thousands of human rights abuses, politicians, journalists and other trade unionists imprisoned and attacks on critical media, the right to report and freedom of expression to name but a few. But as pointed out in the executive summary; “This report covers the period from December 2013 to the present, but where appropriate, earlier events have also been considered.”
In response to the December 2013 revelations, the report states that the AK party government has taken unprecedented steps to exert executive authority over Turkey’s judiciary, police and media. These steps include the dismissal of all staff working for the Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors and their replacement by staff nominated by the Minister of Justice – a move ruled unconstitutional by Turkey’s Constitutional Court, but which was never reversed – and the creation of new Criminal Judges of the Peace with extensive powers over criminal investigations.
By undermining the independence of the Turkish judiciary, the AKP government made possible the detention of outspoken media figures and hundreds of police officers involved in the anti-corruption operation. These arrests took place in contravention of the Turkish Constitution and the prohibition of torture, the right to liberty and security, and the right to a fair trial as enshrined in Articles 3, 5, and 6 of the ECHR respectively.
In a section dealing with attacks on freedom of expression the report states that: Since December 2013, the government has increasingly infringed the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 10 of the ECHR. This state-sponsored suppression of freereporting and public debate has entailed both restrictions on freedom of the press andinterference with social media.
Examples of the AKP government’s crackdown on press freedoms include the filing of a criminal prosecution demanding 17years’ imprisonment against the managing editor of Zaman for reporting a parliamentary speech made by the leader of the opposition; the reported distribution of a list of journalists to be fired to the chair of Koza İpek Holding, owner of The Bugün newspaper; the filing of criminal complaints against the editor of Today’s Zaman by President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu personally; The deportation of reporter Mahir Zeynalov for “posting tweets critical of high-level state officials”; and the exertion of economic pressure on dissenting media institutions.
The government also amended the Internet law to allow the Telecommunications and Communications Directorate (TIB) to block online content, often without a court order and with only a four-hour notice period. The TIB used this power to block Twitter, an action the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled to be “a severe intervention on freedom of expression”. The Constitutional Court later struck down the four-hour notice period as unconstitutional, only for the AKP government to introduce a “nearly identical” amendment to the Internet Law.
In 2014 the ECHR handed down 101 judgements against Turkey confirming violations of human rights, only Russia lost more cases.
Sir Edward Garnier told the Guardian: “Given the way the [Turkish] courts are being undermined … there’s an absence of any realistic prospect of a remedy in the domestic courts.” The constitutional court remains “a last beacon”, he added, but is overwhelmed with cases. “It’s possible, we believe, for those who are aggrieved to go directly to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They would have to take legal advice but the situation is not too optimistic in Turkey.”
A full copy of this thorough and detailed report may be found at: http://www.onebrickcourt.com/news.aspx?menu=main&pageid=44&newsid=696&archive=
The Guardian report of 28 September may be found at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/28/british-lawyers-warn-of-human-rights-violations-in-turkey