CoE human rights commissioner intervenes in Turkish journalists’ cases at ECHR

CoE human rights commissioner intervenes in Turkish journalists’ cases at ECHR

CoE human rights commissioner intervenes in Turkish journalists’ cases at ECHR Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks has reportedly intervened in the cases against jailed Turkish journalists, to which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has agreed to give priority and demanded Turkey’s defense.

Muiznieks has asked the court to present his opinion on Aug. 26 over an authorization given by article 3 of article 36 of the Convention on Human Rights. His request was accepted by the ECHR on Aug. 30 and the court wanted his opinion to be submitted by Oct. 11. 

His request reportedly covers the cases against daily Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, the daily’s executive president Akın Atalay, editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel, along with the cases of journalists Ahmet Şık, Murat Aksoy, Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Şahin Alpay, Deniz Yücel and singer Atilla Taş. 

In the wake of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, the employees of many publications and media organs were detained on charges of being members of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

Sabuncu and nine others from the daily were arrested last year on several charges, including “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it.” 

[HH] Journalists apply to ECHR

Being jailed ever since, the journalists applied to the ECHR, challenging the relevant detention orders and applying for their release. According to the ECHR, the journalists and executives complained about their pre-trial detention and its duration and also claimed that there had been a breach of their freedom of expression. The Cumhuriyet employees’ application on March 2 was made based on the right to liberty and security, right to a speedy review of the lawfulness of the detention, freedom of expression and limitations on the use of restrictions on rights, the ECHR had earlier said.  

They also lodged individual petitions before the Constitutional Court; those proceedings are currently pending.

The ECHR agreed to give priority to the cases of the arrested Cumhuriyet journalists and executives, asking Turkey to provide the reasons for jailing them. 

The Strasbourg-based court made an amendment to its bylaw on May 31 regarding the sorting of cases that will be processed after journalists in a number of European countries applied to the court in recent years with complaints on press freedom. 

A deadline of Oct. 2 has been set for the Turkish authorities to respond to the human rights complaint concerning the detention of 10 journalists from the daily.

[HH] Muiznieks critical about freedom in Turkey 

Muiznieks has several times warned over the status of freedom of expression in Turkey, while publishing a memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country.

“Over the course of last year, Turkey has become the world’s biggest prison for journalists. Editors of national newspapers now face life sentences for working ‘against the state.’ Hundreds of Turkish journalists have been arrested for criticizing President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and over 4,400 public servants were sacked in an act branded by critics as a ‘witch-hunt’ targeting the political opposition,” he stated in February. 

Turkish authorities must “change course” and reverse violations of media freedoms and the rule of law, Muiznieks said Feb. 15.

In a 25-page report based on his two visits to the country last year, Muiznieks said Turkey’s already worrisome levels of media freedom and freedom of expression in recent years had reached “seriously alarming” levels since the government declared a state of emergency after a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Muiznieks criticized Turkey’s broad definition of terrorism and terrorist propaganda that include statements that do not incite violence, the imprisonment of dozens of journalists, the erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the abundant use of defamation laws used to silence critics, censorship on the internet and the use of state resources to favor pro-government media.