Sustained pattern of hostility towards free expression in Turkey

Monday, May 4, 2015
The following letter of concern is part of an exchange between CJFE and the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Ottawa. You can read CJFE's previous letter in the series, as well as the response from His Excellency Selçuk Ünal's, Turkish Ambassador to Canada. In recent years CJFE has had a number of exchanges with your delegation, including a face-to-face meeting concerning the number of media workers who have been jailed and charged with various alleged offenses in Turkey. We also joined an international protest on these issues. In recent months, there have been numerous violations of media freedom in the country. In one such instance, cartoonists Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan were found guilty on charges of “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; both were sentenced to 14 months in prison on March 24; the sentence was later reduced to a fine of 7,000 lira each. To make matters more difficult, in a reply letter to us a few weeks ago you took issue with the fact that on our website we had published our letter to you, and your subsequent reply to us, regarding repeated raids on media outlets in Turkey. To clarify, CJFE is not a part of or an agency of the Canadian or any provincial or civic government. Hence, communications between us and any foreign representative is neither privileged nor assured of the same kind of privacy that you may expect and receive in your diplomatic exchanges with the various Canadian levels of government. As an advocacy organization that defends and promotes free expression in Canada and abroad, CJFE’s role is to publicize abuses and advancements concerning free expression and media freedom. In doing so, we often engage with international delegations on these issues and are committed to doing so in a transparent and publicly accessible manner. Over our 32 years of existence, and as a founding member of the 95-member IFEX network since, we have also acquired a substantial amount of experience and sensitivity regarding the safety of media workers and protections for free expression in Canada and around the world. As an IFEX member, we receive regular reports on the state of press freedom from other local member organizations working on the ground, in countries including Turkey. In the past, your delegation has disagreed with some of the points in our criticisms of Turkey’s free expression record and we understand that this is an appropriate function. However, the possibility of an additional “insult” charge being laid against aforementioned cartoonist Bahadır Baruter adds to this troubling conduct, as does the prosecution of Dutch freelance journalist Frederike Geerdink on terrorism charges for reporting on the activities of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Despite being acquitted by a judge who clearly asserted that Geerdink’s reporting on the PKK did not amount to “terrorist propaganda” and was in fact simply journalism, the chief prosecutor in her case has appealed the acquittal. In what appears to be another indication of the politicization of the Turkish judiciary, a prosecutor defied an April 25 order by Judge Mustafa Başer to release journalist Hidayet Karaca, who has been detained without charge since his arrest on December 14, 2014. Judge Başer, who ordered that Karaca be freed pending trial, was then promptly removed from his post, and replaced by Judge Erdoğan Şimşek who revoked the release order for Karaca. If Turkey is truly to embrace its erstwhile democratic commitments, as President Erdoğan has asserted the country intends to, it must implement proper, effective judicial safeguards and mechanisms to guarantee the free expression rights of all individuals in the country.
This letter of concern was sent to His Excellency Selçuk Ünal, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada. Cc: Mr. John Holmes, Ambassador of Canada to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs

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