Turkey seeks to expand the freedom of expression

Turkey seeks to expand the freedom of expression

In the past couple of weeks, some important developments have occurred on justice-related matters.

Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül seems to be concentrated on his work to accomplish the judicial reform strategy with plans to submit drafts bill to Parliament after Oct. 1.  In a comprehensive interview with the daily Hürriyet on Sept. 8, the minister suggested that expanding the scope of the freedom of expression will be among the top priorities of the strategy document.

“Thinking, expressing and living are the natural rights of human beings. They are about mankind. You can’t question a man about his thoughts and way of life. He can live and express himself the way he wants. The rule of law is there to protect these rights,” Gül said.

However, there are certain restrictions on the use of these freedoms in line with universal principles: Inciting and spreading violence and acts against human dignity cannot be categorized under the freedom of expression, he recalled.

“Apart from these, freedom of expression cannot be limited. I also think that criticism should not be prosecuted either,” the minister said, informing that the reform strategy document will outline some changes for the removal of restrictions on the freedom of expression.   

According to reports, the government is mulling over appending a sentence to the existing anti-terror law in a bid to prevent the prosecution of journalists over terror propaganda. In cases where the right of expressing a critical opinion or informing the public opinion is used, this won’t be regarded as a crime and therefore there will be no prosecution, according to the drafted amendment.

It’s too early to conclude whether this would be a sufficient move for expanding the freedom of expression. The entire package should be seen for a better analysis.

In the meantime, there were some controversial developments, as well. The release of five Cumhuriyet reporters through a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals was a positive one just like the release of some academicians who had been detained for signing a peace petition.

However, sentencing Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Istanbul head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), to spend in total nine years, eight months and 20 days behind bars for several charges including “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “insulting public officials” was seen as yet another politically-driven ruling.

The problem Turkey is facing in the field of freedom of expression is much deeper and multidimensional. Just an amendment to the law will not be sufficient in reversing the entire picture. All the laws that have a restricting impact on freedom of expression should be revised and re-written with a libertarian spirit.

More importantly, implementation is the key. The lack of a notion on the value of freedom of expression among the justice and senior politicians is, unfortunately, constituting one of the sources of the deterioration in the use of this basic right.

At this very moment when Turkey is seeking ways to improve the freedom of expression in Turkey, a large delegation led by the International Press Institute held talks in Ankara with the senior Turkish officials on that very matter.

Here are some of their suggestions:

-A Judicial Reform Strategy by the Turkish government to address flaws in the justice system will not be credible unless it guarantees judicial independence in both law and practice and ends the persecution of journalists. The delegation welcomed the intention of the authorities to undertake reform.

-As part of any judicial reform strategy, Turkey should urgently revise anti-terror and defamation laws, repeatedly abused to silence critical press. It should take immediate steps to end the arbitrary prosecution of journalists, characterized by baseless indictments, politically-driven judgments and severe violations of the right to a fair trial.

-The delegation is profoundly alarmed by the implementation of new rules from Turkey’s audiovisual regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), which extend the agency’s control to online broadcasters, threatening their existence through a costly and opaque licensing regiment.

Serkan Demirtaş,