Another shocking attack on freedom of expression in Turkey

Riot police break the main entrance of the İpek Media Group headquarters in İstanbul during the raid on Wednesday. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

Riot police break the main entrance of the İpek Media Group headquarters in İstanbul during the raid on Wednesday. (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

Today’s raids on Turkish media outlets are “yet another shocking attack on journalists and freedom of expression in Turkey, and come just four days before a crucial parliamentary election on Sunday,” according to Amnesty International in a statement released today.

The statement highlights the political nature of today’s actions, noting that “the Koza İpek group contains outlets that span television, print and online media, including Millet and Bugün newspapers and the Bugün and Kanaltürk news channels. All are fierce critics of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.”

Amnesty went on to say that “today’s actions come in an environment in which journalists, human rights defenders, activists and ordinary citizens are routinely prosecuted and brought to trial for peacefully expressing their legitimate opinions.”

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Posted in Academic Freedom, Andrew Gardner, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Press | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Amnesty Issues Urgent Action on Refugees at Risk of Deportation

Amnesty has been closely following the case of three refugees in Turkey who are at risk of deportation.  The three men have been denied access to counsel or to visits from their families under conditions that amount to incommunicado detention and are in violation of both Turkish and international human rights law.  Amnesty issued an urgent action to its members world wide to take action.

The situation, however, has grown more serious and immediate action is needed.

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Posted in Amnesty International, Refugees, Turkey | Tagged , , ,

On the Arrest of Tahir Elci: Ideas are not “Terror” [Updated 21 October]

Diyarbakır Bar Association head Tahir Elçi (Photo: Cihan)

Diyarbakır Bar Association head Tahir Elçi (Photo: Cihan)

According to multiple news sources, an arrest warrant has been issued for Diyarbakır Bar Association head Tahir Elçi over a statement he made last week, saying “the PKK is not a terror organization.”  On Twitter, Emma Sinclair-Webb, Senior Turkey Researcher for Human Rights Watch described the arrest as “another nail in [the coffin of] Turkey’s human rights record.”

Earlier today, Amnesty International’s Turkey Researcher, Andrew Gardner had  stated that, with no incitement to violence, the case did not meet international standards and the investigation of should be dropped.

Update: On October 21, Amnesty International issued an updated statement on the case.  The document reads:

Amnesty International calls on the Turkish authorities to end judicial harassment of the Head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, Tahir Elçi, a pre-eminent lawyer and human rights defender.

A criminal investigation for “Making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” was started on 16 October following his statements on national television that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is not a terrorist organisation but an armed political movement with popular support.

In a further abuse of law, a warrant for Tahir Elçi’s arrest was issued on the absurd grounds that his whereabouts were unknown. He was detained yesterday in Diyarbakır, flown to Istanbul and brought for questioning before the prosecutor. The prosecutor’s request that Tahir Elçi be remanded in pre-trial detention pending the completion of the investigation was rejected by an Istanbul court and he was released, subject to a judicial control order and a ban on leaving the country.

Amnesty International views the case as an overtly political attack on Tahir Elçi’s right to freedom of expression, targeting him not only for his televised statements but for his work as a lawyer and human rights defender.

Tahir Elçi has for decades defended the principles of law and human rights, in his native Cizre, and later Diyarbakır in the southeast of Turkey, taking cases to the national courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and working with national and international human rights organisations. He is in his second term as Head of the Diyarbakýr Bar Association, in which capacity he has headed missions documenting human rights violations in the predominately Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

The judicial harassment of Tahir Elçi is a particularly outrageous example of the use of anti-terror laws to punish dissenting peaceful opinions regarding the PKK that conflict with the position of the government. A spate of investigations have been launched following the outbreak of violence between the PKK and the state security forces in July 2015. This case, and other similar cases brought under the provision for “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, make a mockery of revisions to the law enacted in the “Fourth judicial package” in 2013 that amend the definition of the crime to require an advocacy of violent methods.

Amnesty International calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately drop the criminal investigation into Tahir Elçi and to ensure that any prosecutions under the article are only brought in instances that amount to incitement of violence, in line with international human rights law.

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Posted in Amnesty International, Andrew Gardner, Freedom of Expression, Turkey | Tagged , , , ,

Guest Blog: Abdullah Comert’s Family Still Searches for Justice


Imagine having lost your child. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine that you would have to travel every month or so to a courthouse far away from your hometown in the hope of finding justice for your child. This nightmare scenario is what Abdullah Cömert’s family are going through at the moment.

Let’s have a look at a map of Turkey. Hatay, where Abdullah Cömert’s family lives, is located in the South. More than 1000 kilometers away, in the West, is Balikesir, the place where the trial into the killing of Abdullah Cömert takes place. The initial trial was started in Hatay, but later transferred to Balıkesir for security reasons, which is a common practice in Turkey regarding the cases concerning violence caused by security forces. This is the distance that the family members of Abdullah have to travel to look the suspected murderer of their child into his eyes. Except the defendant is not present. The police officer who faces up to 25 years in prison for intentionally killing Abdullah is not arrested yet and is allowed to appear before court through a video conference system in Mersin where he is posted.

On 9 October the sixth hearing in the case of Abdullah Cömert took place and I was present with Deniz Yıldız from Amnesty Turkey to observe the trial for Amnesty International. More than two years ago Abdullah took part in the nationwide Gezi Park protests and he was killed when a tear gas canister fired by a police armoured vehicle hit his head. At the hearing, lawyers for the family of Abdullah Cömert showed video footage to prove that the police defendant was the one who fired the canister at Abdullah and that he did so intentionally. On the video the armoured vehicle was seen entering a narrow street. According to the lawyers this shows that the intention was not to disperse the demonstration, but to specifically target the demonstrators.

One of the lawyers of the police defendant argued that the demonstration was illegal. This shows a worryingly lack of understanding of the right to freedom of assembly. According to international law, not only do demonstrators have the right to peacefully assemble, the state should also actively protect peaceful assemblies. Even when certain individuals use violence during the demonstration do others still have the right to exercise their freedom of assembly. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the argument that the demonstration was illegal is going to help the defendant as use of force should only be used as a last resort and everyone’s right to life should be protected.

Abdullah Cömert

Abdullah Cömert

It is a sad fact that Abdullah was killed for exercising his democratic right to protest. Unfortunately the judges have not seen enough evidence to come to a verdict yet and have asked for further proof. The next hearing will take place on November 20th.

Let’s hope that this trial will end soon and that Abdullah’s family can find some peace knowing that justice was done.

Andrea de Ruijter, Amnesty – Netherlands

Posted in Amnesty International, Gezi, Impunity | Tagged , , , , ,

Amnesty voices concern over EU-Turkey deal on refugees


In advance of Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul, Amnesty International issued a press release voicing concern over a potential deal:

European leaders’ desperate attempts to enlist Turkey as Europe’s gatekeeper are ignoring the manifest failures of the Turkish authorities to respect the rights of refugees and migrants, said Amnesty International today ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul tomorrow.

Talks between Angela Merkel and her Turkish counterparts – Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – on Sunday are set to cover the refugee crisis among other issues.

“Talks between the EU and Turkey on ‘migration management’ risk putting the rights of refugees a distant second behind border control measures designed to prevent refugees from reaching the EU,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher.

A Syrian refugee family spend the day in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, August 10, 2015.   REUTERS/Osman Orsal

A Syrian refugee family spend the day in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

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Posted in Andrew Gardner, Refugees | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Amnesty condemns bombing in Ankara, calls for impartial investigation [updated 10:35 AM Eastern]

Turkey: Amnesty International condemns bombing targeting demonstrators in Ankara

Just after 10am this morning, twin blasts close to the central train station in Ankara exploded as people assembled for the start of a peace demonstration in the capital city.

The authorities issued a statement two hours after the explosions indicating that 30 people had died and that 126 people were injured. Later in the afternoon, according to a statement by the Minister of Health, the death toll had risen to 86, with 186 people injured in the blasts.

An injured man hugs an injured woman after an explosion during a peace march in Ankara, Turkey, October 10, 2015. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

An injured man hugs an injured woman after an explosion during a peace march in Ankara, Turkey, October 10, 2015. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Amnesty International condemns the bombing, which appears to have targeted ordinary people exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully. Such attacks targeting civilians show contempt for the right to life and breach the most basic principles of international law. No individual or group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Posted in Amnesty International, Freedom of Expression, PKK, Terrorism | Tagged , , ,

Amnesty Issues Urgent Action: Refugees At Risk of Being Forcibly Returned to Syria

A Syrian refugee family spend the day in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

A Syrian refugee family spend the day in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Amnesty International today issued an urgent action in the case of around 150 Syrian refugees at risk of being returned to Syria by Turkish authorities.  The action also notes that a smaller group of Iraqi refugees “were released from the camp on condition that they return to Iraq within a month. The refugees were travelling to Greece in a boat that sunk on 15 September leaving at least 22 dead, including children.”  Amnesty has urged its world-wide membership to take action and calls Turkish authorities to halt the return of refugees, release them from detention, and ensure that their right to lodge asylum claims is protected.

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Posted in Arab Spring, Refugees, Turkey | Tagged , , ,

Amnesty: Stop shipments of teargas to Turkey

South Korea: Don't Give Us Gas!

South Korea: Don’t Give Us Gas!

Amnesty International – Turkey has begun a twitter campaign today aimed at halting Korean shipments of teargas to Turkey.  The campaign was sparked by new information of the imminent shipment of teargas scheduled this month.

Amnesty has issued an urgent plea to the South Koreans, asking them to suspend the sale. Continue reading

Posted in Excessive Force, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Expression, Teargas, Turkey | Tagged , , ,

Amnesty on Cizre: Basic needs must be met; observers must be allowed access

Amnesty International today issued a statement on events in Cizre, where Turkish authorities have instituted a round-the-clock curfew for more than a week.  Since September 4, Cizre’s more than 100,000 residents have been forbidden from leaving their homes.

BBC: The body of Meryem Sune, 53, could not be buried for two days

BBC: The body of Meryem Sune, 53, could not be buried for two days

The curfew, a total ban on residents leaving their houses, has been accompanied by the cutting of mobile phone signals, the blocking of roads, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the city, and reported cuts to water and electricity. Outside observers have been banned from entering the city.

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Posted in Amnesty International, Excessive Force, Kurds, Turkey | Tagged , , ,

Disturbing news in Frederike Geerdink case: Journalism under Fire in Turkey [update 9/11]

Fréderike Geerdink

Fréderike Geerdink

The first news on social media seemed positive, saying that journalist, Frederike Geerdink, who was detained several days ago, had finally been released.   Unfortunately, things do not look so positive now.

Amnesty International‘s Turkey Researcher, Andrew Gardner, contacted her lawyers and has learned that, although she has been released, she is still under investigation under charges of assisting a terrorist organization continue.  Moreover, Geerdink has been transferred to the “Foreigners Section,” a division of the police services that deals with foreign nationals, presumably under a deportation order.

Gardner notes that Geerdink has long been “a thorn in the side of Turkish authorities for her coverage of Kurdish issues” and that today’s actions “appear to be a continuation of Turkey’s campaign to silence critical journalists.”

These developments follow on the heels of the deportation of two British journalists yesterday.  Another journalist, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, is still held under anti-terrorism charges in a case that Gardner has described as unsubstantiated, outrageous and bizarre.”  Amnesty has called for his release.

Update 9/11/15:

Geerdink was indeed deported and is now back in the Netherlands.  She has expressed her anxiousness to return to Turkey as soon as possible to renew her reporting, saying, ”
“As much fun and violence-free the Netherlands may be, it’s not for me, there’s work to do for journalists in Turkey.”

“It’s clear the deportation is an attempt to make sure Frederike is not responsible for critical reporting. But it’s also part of a larger pattern of intimidation of journalists,” said Andrew Gardner.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Press, Kurds, Press Freedom, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , ,