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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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International NGOs Collaborate on Fact-Finding Mission on Media Freedom in Turkey

ImageIn July, KHRP undertook a fact-finding mission to Turkey in conjunction with Article 19, Index on Censorship, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the Centre for European Studies at the University of Limerick, Ireland.  Its aim was to investigate the current situation with regard to freedom of the media.  During the 8-day mission, the delegates visited Istanbul, Diyarbakır and Batman, and met with a cross-section of representatives from broadcasting, print and online media, as well as with state officials, local lawyers and civil society groups.  In particular, the mission was interested in finding out about the impact of the harmonisation package introduced as part of the EU-Turkey accession negotiations, especially on Kurdish, socialist and Islamist oriented media (reportedly the main targets of violations due to sensitivities to their discussions of the Kurdish question and/ or their socialist/ Islamist agendas).

The mission found that while there had undoubtedly been an improvement as part of the reforms of 2003-2004, there has since been a substantial and rapid regression in media freedom.  This was mainly attributed to the slow-down in the EU reform process, the passing of new legislation and, crucially, the manner in which this legislation is being interpreted and applied by the state apparatus.

Clearly, there has been much discussion of the high profile prosecutions against intellectuals such as Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink for their alleged ‘denigration of Turkishness’, under Article 301 of the new Turkish penal code.  However, the mission was interested to hear of the many lesser known cases brought under other articles, particularly, Article 220 (8), on ‘praising illegal organisations’, and 218 of the penal code against journalists in the south-east.  One source estimated that there were six times as many prosecutions in Diyarbakır alone under Article 220 (8) and relevant provisions than under Article 301 across Turkey as a whole, with Article 301 said to be used against the Turks, and Article 220 (8) against the Kurds. 

In particular, the mission was concerned to hear consistent reports of Kurdish newspapers being closed or threatened with closure.  For instance, despite KHRP’s success in representing the pro Kurdish paper Özgür Gündem before the European Court of Human Rights in 2000, it is one of several newspapers that continue to be repeatedly shut down for short intervals, with notices of closure at times issued in advance of their reinstatement.  At the time of the mission, it had already been shut down twice in 2007.  Furthermore, delegates were disturbed to hear of the numbers of journalists being prosecuted or imprisoned, sometimes with long periods of detention without trial, and unaware of the charges being made against them.  The mission also learnt of very substantial restrictions on the use of Kurdish language in broadcasting and news, although the lifting of restrictions in 2003/4 was lauded as one of the major achievements of the EU accession process.  While regulations no longer ban Kurdish outright, the costly obligation of providing simultaneous Turkish subtitles or having an equivalent Turkish broadcast immediately follow a Kurdish programme, render live broadcasts in Kurdish practically impossible.  Heavy fines for failing to meet these requirements have forced many Kurdish language broadcasters to shut down.  The mission also learned that Kurdish language broadcasting is not permitted during the weekends and during the weekdays this must be limited to just 45 minutes per day.  The mission was shocked to hear further reports that Kurdish language broadcasts need to have advance approval as to their content and preparation. Though the situation was comparatively much better than in the 1980s and 1990s, there was widespread acknowledgment that the current climate is causing fear of a return to the ‘dark years’.  Journalists and reporters, with whom the mission met, conceded that while they would continue to fight injustice, many would likely practice a degree of self-censorship in the face of such repression.  The mission has called on the Turkish authorities to urgently lift its restrictions on Kurdish language broadcasting and to repeal laws which stifle free speech and prevent Turkey from functioning fully as a democratic state.  The mission further urges the European Union to uphold its commitment to the reform process by resuming Turkey’s accession bid and by continuing to closely monitor its performance, particularly with regard to freedom of expression. A full report of the mission will be made available shortly.

[PICTURED: Mission members Edel Hughes, Louise Christian and Pranjali Acharya with Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Chair of Diyarbakır Bar Association.]