ANKARA (Hurriyet Daily News)—The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights expressed concern over media freedom in Turkey in a report. The report lists the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey as ‘worrying’
Turkey’s Union of Jounalists reported on Sunday that currently there are 70 journalists in Turkey who are in prison. The Couincil of European Union also listed freedom of expression and free speech of media as an urgent issue.
Freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey need to be addressed in the new constitution as charter amendments previously adopted by the country have been insufficient, a Council of Europe commissioner has said in a new report.
“Despite the progress made by Turkey in recent years regarding free and open debates on previously sensitive issues, the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom remains particularly worrying,” Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg said in the report released Tuesday.
“Urgent measures are needed to uphold these rights and foster a more tolerant atmosphere toward criticism and dissent,” he said.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule will most likely broach the topics of freedom of expression and press freedom topics when he meets with Turkish officials in Ankara on Wednesday.
Hammarberg welcomed recent changes to the Turkish Constitution, but said the changes were not enough as the present charter, continued to hinder full respect for pluralism and freedom of expression. The commissioner encouraged Turkish authorities to ensure that the planning of constitutional reform would include close consultation with all political parties and civil society.
“The amendments adopted so far by Turkey have not been sufficient in dealing with the root causes of numerous violations of the right to freedom of expression found by the European Court of Human Rights,” Hammarberg said.
Another area of concern for the Council of Europe is the penal code and anti-terrorism law which continues to impede freedom of expression in Turkey, according to the commissioner.
“Provisions of these pieces of legislation have been used to disproportionately limit freedom of expression, including journalists, broadcasters and publishers,” Hammarberg said.
“Courts and prosecutors interpret and apply existing statutory provisions without due respect to the principle of proportionality and the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning freedom of expression. The authorities should notably introduce into the Turkish legal system the defenses of truth and public interest when assessing the criminal responsibility of journalists.”
The commissioner called on Turkey to effectively address the serious, long-standing dysfunctions within the Turkish judicial system affecting freedom of expression. He also urged Turkish authorities to review the Internet Act and the Radio and Television Act. He considered in particular that “systematic Internet censorship and the blocking of websites by competent administrative authorities are beyond what is necessary in a democratic society.”
Finally, the commissioner, referring to the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, called on authorities to step up efforts to effectively protect journalists from violence and intimidation. He also recommended addressing the precarious working conditions of many journalists, in particular investigative ones, and putting an end to the systematic violation of labor rights of media professionals.
The Turkish government’s response to the report was also appended to the commissioner’s report.
In a letter to Hammarberg, the Foreign Ministry said Turkey had made remarkable progress in recent years in terms of achieving a free and open debate concerning human rights-related issues which were previously considered to be sensitive or taboo subjects.
The ministry, in the letter, declined to respond to each and every finding and recommendation raised in the report, but assured that the government was determined to expand the scope of the freedom of expression.