Turkey’s Crackdown on Press, Free Expression Mark “Grave Moment”
PEN America condemns latest actions in the wake of Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America condemns Turkey’s latest attacks on journalists, as well as the broader crackdown on freedom of expression in the country over the past week. After the sudden, eleventh-hour decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP-led government to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, the international agreement to combat violence against women, protests erupted across Turkey. According to witnesses, journalists at several of these protests were assaulted by police and told to “stop filming.”
Last weekend’s protests, which drew tens of thousands of people, came after a week of repeated attacks on freedom of expression. On March 17, Turkey’s top prosecutor submitted legislation that would close the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) over allegations of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization. Further, they stripped one of the HDP’s most vociferous lawmakers, Faruk Gergerlioglu, of his MP status for sharing a news article on Twitter in 2016 about the Kurdish conflict and the collapse of the peace process. Gergerlioglu was accused of “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and was later detained after spending four days in the parliament building to protest the government’s efforts to remove him.
“Taken together, the events of the last week mark a grave moment for freedom of expression in Turkey, already under enormous pressure since the attempted coup of 2016. Attacks on journalists like Ceren Kaynak Iskit, as well as the silencing of opposition lawmakers like Faruk Gergerlioglu, indicate a deeply troubling trend in the country, said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s free expression at risk programs. “When considered alongside Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record—which includes the continued detention of writers and public intellectuals like Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtas, and Ahmet Altan—this further confirms that Turkey is now one of the most challenging places to attempt to practice free speech or journalism in the world. We call on the Turkish authorities to allow journalists to do their job of covering important events, and to stop prosecuting peaceful expression and advocacy.”
“The events of the last week dealt a major blow to Turkish democracy and human rights. The government’s attempt to outlaw a popular opposition party, and President Erdogan’s unilateral withdrawal of Turkey from a major international treaty like the Istanbul Convention, mark unprecedented assaults with devastating implications for inclusive governance and the rule of law,” said Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “And without the freedom of expression, few people in Turkey can effectively oppose or stop such destructive moves. Erdogan must immediately reverse these steps, and Turkey’s democratic allies like the U.S. should pressure him to do so.”
The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and the targeting of the HDP have both been widely condemned by international organizations and governments alike, including the U.S. under the Biden administration. EU leaders have also expressed grave concern.
Following the July 2016 coup attempt and the imposition of a state of emergency by the current government, freedom of expression has come under severe pressure in Turkey. According to PEN America’s inaugural Freedom to Write Index, Turkey ranked as the world’s third highest jailer of writers and intellectuals, with at least 30 cases of detainment or imprisonment of writers during 2019. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of Turkish writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.