Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks [official profile] on Wednesday urged Turkey [press release] to “change course and to display the responsibility and tolerance expected in a democratic society.” The commissioner’s document [text, PDF] comes amid increased scrutiny of Turkey’s treatment of journalists and other members of Turkish society, allegedly leading to the repression of free speech and self-censorship. Muiznieks said that Turkey has lost the ground it achieved concerning media freedom and freedom of expression in cooperation with the Council of Europe and that the state of emergency blanketing the country must be limited and the power of the executive checked:
A first step is to lift the current state of emergency and reverse the numerous unacceptable infringements of freedom of expression, and in particular media freedom and academic freedom, that it engendered. In addition, the Turkish authorities must completely overhaul the Criminal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Law so as to align law and practice with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Beyond these deficiencies, it is crucial to change a judicial culture where judges and prosecutors interpret and apply laws in a way that consistently undermines freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey.
The Turkish government responded [text, PDF] by expressing “strong disagreement with certain observations” but affirmed its commitment to freedom of expression.
Since a failed coup attempt in July, where Turkish military forces tried to overthrow the government, the Turkish government has taken several controversial steps to strengthen its power. At the end of January a judge for the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals ordered the release of a Turkish judge [JURIST report] who was involved in adjudicating a Rwandan genocide case and had been incarcerated since July. Earlier in January the Turkish Parliament approved a plan [JURIST report], which, if approved by vote later this year, would increase presidential power within the country and would allow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stay in office until 2029. In November Turkey significantly restricted the activities of NGOs like human rights organizations and children’s groups and arrested opposition party leaders [JURIST reports] alleging they were connected to terror organizations. In October Human Rights Watch warned [JURIST report] that the emergency decrees put in place after the failed coup had resulted in serious human rights violations. In July Amnesty International condemned [JURIST report] Turkey for attacking the freedom of the press by issuing arrest warrants for 42 journalists.