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AEJ in Council of Europe consultations on Turkey’s ‘abuse’ of emergency laws against independent media

The AEJ and seven other European journalistic and press freedom organisations met the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, and other officials in Strasbourg on Thursdayfor intensive discussions about the critical situation for independent journalism in Turkey following July’s failed coup and the imposition of a state of emergency which has enabled President Erdogan’s government to rule by decree. The Secretary-General’s spokesperson later issued  a press release.

Over one hundred journalists are now held in Turkish jails, many of them accused of terrorism without any credible evidence being presented and without due process of law. Hundreds more have been summarily dismissed from their jobs and almost all the country’s independent TV, radio and print media have been closed down or forcibly taken into administration by state authorities. Participants in the meeting with Mr Jagland included the EFJ/IFJ journalists’ federations, Article 19, Index on Censorship, the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders, all of which, together with the AEJ and the Committee to Protect Journalists, are partners with the Council of Europe, and send regular alerts about attacks against journalists and press freedom in European countries to the online  Platform for the safety of journalists.

The Platform was launched last year with support from the Council of Europe’s governments in response to what the states themselves acknowledged to be an ‘unacceptable’ and growing level of threat to press freedom in Europe and the safety of individual journalists and others exercising their right to free expression who face threats of violence, harassment or arbitrary imprisonment from public officials or non-state actors

Participants in the consultations called for urgent actions by the Turkish authorities, by European governments and by the Council of Europe to prevent torture, mistreatment and the neglect of urgent health needs of some of those held arbitrarily in jail; to ensure the exercise of impartial and professional justice by Turkey’s law-enforcement agencies and judiciary; to amend or repeal a number of Turkish domestic laws, including those on terrorism and criminal insult relating to high political authorities, which have been found to be contrary to Turkey’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights; and to end the widespread abuse of the emergency laws to silence dissent through what participants called ‘arbitrary and illegitimate’ actions by government authorities as well as the suspension of the normal powers of Turkey’s constitutional court to hear complaints from individuals against alleged abuses of state power.

The meeting heard that Turkey’s constitutional court already has a backlog of complaints of harm resulting from unconstitutional state actions from over 12,000 individuals, and lawyers advise that the flow of individual complaints from Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights is expected to increase greatly. The dialogue in Strasbourg focused on various measures that could be taken to assist Turkey to restore accepted judicial and democratic standards and respect for the rule of law, even while the emergency laws are in place for the legitimate purpose of investigating actual evidence related to the July 15failed coup. The emergency powers should be used to identify and bring to justice those responsible without catching a very large number of others, including journalists, social media users and academics, in a widespread and arbitrary misuse of state powers which are perceived by many as acts of revenge or injustice, including such things as travel bans on the family members of critical journalists.

Mr Jagland recently led a Council of Europe delegation on a visit to Turkey. A coalition of international press freedom groups, including Article 19 and Reporters Without Borders, also visited Turkey for several days from the end of August and made a number of urgent recommendations.

William Horsley, AEJ Vice President and Firdevs Robinson, AEJ UK member and author of Talk Turkey blog took part in the consultations with the Council of Europe on 6 October.