Dunja Mijatović: The Turkish authorities must protect democratic freedoms

CoE Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović:

Turkish Authorities Must Protect Democratic Freedoms


5 May 2023

The Turkish authorities should put an end to the hostile environment affecting human rights defenders, journalists, NGOs and lawyers and stop silencing them by means of administrative and judicial action. Ahead of elections, the pressure on these important actors in a democratic society has intensified, and the human rights situation has deteriorated further, with the freedoms of expression, association and assembly particularly affected.

The latest mass raids and the arrests of more than 120 persons across Türkiye, including journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, and artists, reportedly on grounds of being members of a terrorist organisation, raise serious concerns in this regard. There have so far been allegations of violations of procedural guarantees and of police violence in this context, while six journalists and 25 lawyers from this group reportedly remain in pre-trial detention, further expanding the list of detained journalists in Türkiye

The authorities’ failure to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of Saturday Mothers/People, who seek the truth about their missing loved ones, despite two judgments of the Turkish Constitutional Court to that effect, and the criminal proceedings against the members of this group for exercising this right, which began yesterday, is another illustration of the risks inherent to a context in which human rights are not effectively protected.

The recent extensive use of the criminal offence of the dissemination of “false or misleading” information and other reported limitations of access to information, including the blocking of social media platforms, SLAPP lawsuits against journalists and media outlets and heavy fines imposed by the Radio and Television Supreme Council on some media for their critical reporting, have had a further chilling effect on journalists and critical voices. This has seriously undermined access to pluralistic information and open public debate, which is crucially important in the current context marked by upcoming elections, as also noted by the pre-electoral delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly following their visit to Türkiye in April.

The public use of hateful rhetoric against minorities, LGBTI people and migrants, including by the highest ranking public officials, has reached alarming levels and has amplified the existing polarisation in society, in an environment which has already been marked by increasing violence and crimes motivated by hatred against members of these groups.

I call on the Turkish authorities to comply with their human rights obligations as a Council of Europe member state, including by ceasing their pressure on human rights defenders, journalists, NGOs and lawyers and ensuring that a plurality of voices can be heard in this pre-electoral period. All public and political actors are called upon to refrain from using rhetoric that may undermine human rights or incite hatred.

Source: https://www.coe.int/no/web/commissioner/-/the-turkish-authorities-must-protect-democratic-freedoms