An oppressive media law and a weak judicial reform are key contributors to Turkey’s freedom of expression crisis, according to a delegation of eight media freedom organisations that visited the country in September.
The world’s “undisputed leading jailor of journalists”- a title it has held for a decade, is experiencing a “crisis of press freedom, democracy, and the rule of law that needs to be adequately addressed.”
A mission comprising of the International Press Institute, ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, Norwegian PEN, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, met with journalists, activists, and members of the judiciary and government to identify key issues within the country.
One of the gravest cause for concern was the fact that a third of the judiciary has been removed after 2016’s failed coup attempt, and all replacements have been appointed via a nominating body under the control of the government. This said the organisations, means that the judiciary is “unfit for the task”.
The dismissal of so many judges and their replacements being selected by the government means that “even the best and most dedicated of judges, will struggle to deliver justice and due process under such extreme conditions.”
The groups added that the judicial reform strategy that was “launched with some fanfare” fails to address any of the “substantial issues and obstacles to an effective and independent judiciary.” It accuses the Turkish government of paying lip service to reform by wanting to falsely give the impression of changes, whilst actually making things worse.
“The wide-ranging capture of the judiciary has progressively and severely damaged the rule of law,” stated the delegation, adding that the reform will not be credible “unless it guarantees judicial independence in both law and practice and ends the arbitrary persecution of journalists.”
The human rights organisations also expressed their profound alarm over the new powers of Turkey’s audiovisual regulator. The Radio and Television High Council has recently had its powers extended to include online broadcasters, forcing them to comply with a “costly and opaque licensing regime”. Lack of clarity of the scope of the law and the language used within it has led to a situation where the state can potentially regulate all online activity.
Turkish authorities were also called upon to “closely and genuinely involve independent civil society, journalists, and international experts in freedom of expression, judicial independence, and the rule of law, to guide reforms that bring the independence of the judiciary in line with Turkey’s commitments under international human rights law.”