Project on Middle East Democracy panel discusses “eroding freedoms” in Turkey

With Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s planned visit to the United States only weeks away, US – Turkish relations are very much on the American policy agenda.  Syria, Iran, and Turkish-Israeli relations are likely to top that agenda, but human rights advocates hope that Turkey’s record on freedom of expression and other HR issues are not forgotten.


This past Friday, the Project on Middle East Democracy hosted a round-table discussion of these issues, entitled “Turkey’s Troubled Politics: Rising Influence and Eroding Freedoms.”The panelists included  Susan Corke of Freedom House, and Yigal Schleifer, an independent journalist with long experience in Turkey, and myself (speaking as an independent academic, and not as a representative of Amnesty).

Panelists voiced both admiration for Turkey’s many successes and frustration with the ways in which basic freedoms have been curtailed in Turkey.

The panel argued for greater attention to Turkey’s human rights record and voiced the hope that the Obama administration will capitalize on its warm relations with the Erdoğan government to push for serious reform.

Amnesty, of course, has outlined a clear blueprint for Turkish judicial reform that would help bring Turkey’s laws in line with international standards for freedom of expression.

These steps include:

In the Penal Code:

– Repeal Articles 301 “Denigrating the Turkish Nation”, 318 “Alienating the public from military service” and 215 “Praising a crime or a criminal” in their entirety.
– Decriminalize defamation as outlined in Article 125 to treat allegations of defamation as a matter for civil litigation by taking it out of the Penal Code.
– Amend Article 216 “Incitement to hatred or hostility” by repealing paragraphs 2 and 3 to ensure that only advocacy of hatred constituting incitement to violence is prosecuted.

Anti-terrorism offenses:

– Bring Turkey’s overly broad and vague definition of terrorism in line with the definition of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
– Repeal Articles 220/6 of the Penal Code “Committing a crime in the name of an organization” and 6/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law “Printing or publishing declarations/statements of a terrorist organization”
– Adopt guidelines for prosecutors on the application of Article 220(7) of the Penal Code that set out clear criteria for when assisting an armed group can be criminalized, including the requirement that such assistance must either in and of itself be a recognizable criminal offence, or be directly linked to the planning or commission of one.
– Further amend Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law “Making propaganda for a terrorist organization” so as to ensure that it only prohibits advocacy of incitement to violence

In the Constitution, ensure that the protection of the right to freedom of expression meets international standards by amending the current Article 26 which contains overly broad restrictions.

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