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Turkey: Arrest of Dutch journalist highlights authorities’ relentless crackdown on free speech

Wednesday 27 April 2016 - 1:00am

ebru umar27 April 2016 - The arrest and subsequent travel ban imposed on Dutch journalist, Ebru Umar, on Sunday is yet one more instance of Turkey’s relentless crackdown on freedom of expression, PEN International and PEN Netherlands said today.

Umar, a well-known Turkish-born Dutch journalist, was arrested following the publication of a piece for the Dutch daily Metro, in which she criticised President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his clampdown on dissent. She was arrested in the resort town of Kusadasi in western Turkey, where she was on holiday. She was held from 11:00 local time on Saturday until 16:00 on Sunday during which she was questioned about two tweets she had made criticising President Erdoğan. After her release, she was informed by authorities that she was barred from leaving the country.

Since Erdoğan became president in 2014, he has made extensive resort to Turkey’s criminal defamation laws to silence critics and opponents, having lodged over 1,800 personal insult suits.

Earlier this month, the Turkish Embassy in Germany lodged a formal request with the German foreign ministry to prosecute comedian Jan Böhmermann, after the comedian read a poem in a late-night programme screened on the German state broadcaster ZDF at the end of last month that accused president of Turkey of, among other things, “repressing minorities, kicking Kurds and slapping Christians”.

At the end of 2015, PEN International recorded some 28 writers and journalists either detained or imprisoned in Turkey; well over 100 others remained on trial, most for alleged national security offences.

PEN International and PEN Netherlands call on Turkish authorities to cease any investigation into Umar’s peaceful and legitimate use of social media and to lift the travel ban imposed on her immediately as it is a violation of the right to freedom of movement and to freedom of expression, as provided under Articles 12 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.

The organisations also urged the authorities to immediately review Turkish legislation with a view to decriminalising insult and defamation and to make them a civil offence, in line with recommendations by UN human rights bodies and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of which Turkey is a member. Legal reforms, guaranteeing that only reasonable damages can be awarded by civil courts, must be initiated to satisfy grievances of people who think their reputations have been damaged.


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