2 November 2016 - The Turkish government once again appears to be abusing state of emergency laws to restrict legitimate freedom of expression, PEN International said today as a partial block of internet access continued in areas of the south-east of the country, particularly Diyarbakir. The organisation called for the blocks to be lifted and for free access to online platforms to be restored.
The blocks – reportedly ordered under Decree Law No.671, passed after the failed coup of 15 July 2016 – followed calls for protest after the two co-mayors of Diyarbakir were arrested for alleged terrorist offences on 25 October 2016. There has been a notable crackdown on Kurdish news media and institutions since the failed coup, attributed by the government to the Gulen Movement.
‘Access to the Internet is critical for writers, publishers, and readers. It is particularly so for minority languages which may have readership spread across a wide region and where there is systematic discrimination against communicating in that language,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
‘On all those counts, the crackdown on Kurdish language - the online portals and TV stations - infringes on the right to free expression. Turkey must remove the curbs; peaceful expression of opinions in not a crime anywhere.’
At least 28 mayors in mainly-Kurdish municipalities have been forcibly removed from their posts since the failed coup, 24 on suspicion of links to the PKK. Thousands of Kurdish teachers, journalists and academics have been suspended from their jobs as part of a nation-wide purge.
‘It’s deeply disturbing that the Kurdish population of Turkey seems to be suffering disproportionately from the effect of the state of emergency decrees,’ said Marjan Strojan, Chair of PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee.
‘We know that the situation is so dire in Turkey that even uttering the word ’peace’ is dangerous, open to accusation, punishment and attacks. We therefore urge both sides to continue a meaningful process of reconciliation, and make genuine attempts towards removing barriers towards finding a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish question rather than a military solution.’
At least 36 journalists from pro—Kurdish outlets have been arrested since the coup attempt, joining another 21 already detained. Sixteen of 30 forcibly closed TV stations are pro-Kurdish, as are 10 of 31 closed radio stations and three of five closed news agencies. The largest Kurdish news agency, DİHA which currently has 16 of its reporters behind bars and another eight facing trial after brief detention, was shuttered by the introduction of two new state of emergency decrees - nos. 675 and 676. The same decrees also shuttered a pro-Kurdish woman’s news agency JİNHA and 10 pro-Kurdish newspapers including the only wide circulation, Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, and three pro-Kurdish magazines. Kurdish broadcaster, Med Nuçe TV was ordered to stop broadcasting on 3 October 2016 by the French satellite provider Eutelsat following a request from the Turkish authorities.
‘Freedom of speech, press freedom and pluralism are basic human rights and ground stones for any country claiming to be a democracy,’ said Simona Škrabec, Chair of PEN’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.
‘The closing down of Kurdish language media outlets under vague charges of disseminating anti-Turkish opinion and without proper independent judicial control, as is happening in Turkey, is not only an unacceptable breach of the very same human rights that Turkey committed to respect and protect in a number of international treaties and an exercise of censorship, but also a serious breach of the linguistic rights of the Kurdish population to receive all kind of information in their mother tongue. We call onto the world’s powers to request the Government of Turkey to reverse these exceptional measures and allow the immediate re-opening of all Kurdish language media outlets.’
Gültan Kışanak, a former journalist, is the first female mayor of Diyarbakir, a large, mainly-Kurdish city on the banks of the Tigris river in south-eastern Turkey. She and her co-mayor Firat Anlı were reportedly detained on 25 October on suspicion of ‘making speeches in support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), allowing PKK militants to use municipal resources, inciting violent protests, and of attending illegal meetings and rallies’. The two were charged on 30 October 2016 and placed in pre-trial detention.
‘We offer our solidarity to all those Kurdish women struggling for peace in the difficult prevailing situation, and are deeply concerned at the news of the arrest of Gültan Kışanak. As a woman who broke new ground in her political life, we stand by her as women fighting for justice,’ said Elisabeth Nordgren, Chair of PEN’s Women Writers’ Committee.
’If she is held for no other reason than for her legitimate freedom of expression or for her peaceful activities as mayor, she should be released immediately and unconditionally. At the very least she should be afforded a fair trial. We also call for the reopening of the JİNHA news agency – staffed exclusively by women and focussing on women’s issues. ’
At its 82nd International Congress, held between 29 September and 2 October 2016 in Ourense, Galicia (Spain), PEN International adopted two resolutions on the situation of freedom of expression in Turkey and on the conflict in the Kurdish-populated region in Turkey.
‘The crackdown on Kurdish language media outlets is part of a general attack on the Kurdish culture and language that we all must repeal. Discrimination against any culture and the marginalisation of its people, language, and heritage must never be tolerated. PEN’s long-term relationship with and celebration of Kurdish culture – a culture that enriches Turkey, its neighbouring countries and the whole world - makes this attack all the more unacceptable,’ said Jennifer Clement, PEN International president.
The organisation continues to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict, for freedom of expression, human rights and the rule of law during the state of emergency to be upheld in line with Turkey’s international obligations, for an end to arbitrary arrests and detention and for reform of the problematic Anti-Terror Law.
It also calls for all elected Kurdish mayors and administrators currently detained and imprisoned who are held solely on account of their peaceful political activities to be released immediately and unconditionally and for an end to the appointment of individuals selected by government in Kurdish cities and towns in place of the democratically elected post holders.
PEN is also continuing to call on the international community to support the call for peace in Turkey; to take all possible measures, including through international and regional institutions such as the United Nations and European Union to solve the dire situation in Turkey that is causing human tragedy in the region and beyond; and to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by the conflict, including through artistic and cultural programmes which can help with the processing of trauma and re-establish a shared understanding of our common humanity.
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