Saturday, October 24, 2009

Turkey: Threats to Freedom of Expression in Turkey

16 October 2009

Turkey: ARTICLE 19 Concerned about Continuous Threats to Freedom of Expression in Turkey

Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code remains a dangerous tool to silence critical voices in Turkey, despite being amended in April 2008 and official reports that charges under this article have decreased this year.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the risk of prosecutions under Article 301 continues to pose a significant threat to freedom of expression in Turkey.

Article 301 makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness” as well as the Turkish Republic and its institutions, carrying sentences of up to four years. Since it came into force in 2005, more than 60 charges have been brought against journalists, intellectuals, academics and publishers. Some of these charges relate to published or spoken opinions questioning the official version of sensitive issues, such as the reality of the Armenian genocide during and after the First World War, or human rights abuses against Kurds in Turkey.

There have also been several high-profile prosecutions under this provision. The writer and Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, was charged in 2005 after he made a statement to a Swiss magazine about the killings of Armenians and Kurds. Although the charges were later dropped, the case generated an international outcry, as well as rallies in Turkey to burn Pamuk’s books.

The journalist Hrant Dink was also prosecuted under Article 301 in 2006 and he received a six-month suspended sentence. Dink was later assassinated and his sentence was posthumously overturned in 2007 by the Appeal Court.

In April 2008, Article 301 was amended, following widespread national and international criticism. The amendment made it obligatory for the Minister of Justice to approve the filing of cases under Article 301.

At a Conference on Freedom of Expression held last week in Ankara, the Turkish authorities reported a significant decrease in prosecutions under Article 301 and attributed the drop to the 2008 legislative reform. According to statistics, the Minister of Justice allowed only eight cases to be filed (out of 523 requests) in 2009.

ARTICLE 19 strongly believes that, despite this decrease in prosecutions, the new Article 301 remains a serious threat for freedom of expression in Turkey. First, we note that the number of requests for prosecutions has not diminished. Prosecutors in Turkey continue to take prompt action against people who are critical of the government or question official versions of historical events and personalities. Second, the number of investigations for denigration of “Turkishness” and the Turkish Republic has decreased only because the current Minister of Justice wants to avoid further scandals concerning charges under Article 301. It is therefore likely that the number of prosecutions may increase if the next minister has a different attitude.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Turkish authorities to protect of the right to freedom of expression, as required by international law, by abolishing Article 301 altogether for the following reasons:

• It is inherently illegitimate for the State to impose a blanket ban on the discussion of historical matters, or individuals and institutions.
• In violation of international law Article 301 is used to prosecute individuals who express opinions which diverge from official dogma regarding the history of the country.
• The term “Turkishness” is vague and gives opportunity for the arbitrary criminalisation of criticism.
• The provision is unnecessary in a democratic society since generic hate speech laws already prohibit incitement to hatred.
• It is unreasonable to spend taxpayers' money for the preparation of numerous requests for prosecutions under Article 301 which are later rejected by the Minister of Justice.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

• For more information please contact: Boyko Boev, ARTICLE 19 Legal Officer, boyko@article19.org or +44 20 7324 2500.

Concern over New Religious Defamation

22 October 2009

United Nations: ARTICLE 19 Joins Other Human Rights Groups to Express Concern over New Religious Defamation Submission

ARTICLE 19 joins 26 other human rights groups in an open letter expressing concerns about recent submissions on religious defamation brought before the UN Ad Hoc Committee for the Elaboration of Complementary Standards.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), represented by Pakistan, and the African Group, represented by Egypt, has made submissions to the Ad Hoc Committee in advance of its Second Session currently taking place in Geneva.

The letter raises concerns that the OIC and the African Group submissions propose:
• The apparent inclusion of religions, religious ideas, objects and personalities as subjects that warrant protection under international human rights law
• The development of new binding international standards on the “defamation of religions”
• The protection of religions from offensive speech
• The defining of concepts of religion-phobias based on the presumption that all religions are internally uncontested.

The letter reaffirms the fact that international human rights standards protect individuals and groups on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, but do not protect religions per se. It is also noted that international law has consistently protected “offensive speech” because of the subjective nature of the concept. Adopting the proposals submitted by the OIC and the African Group would distort and undermine existing international human rights protection of both the right to freedom of expression and equality.

The open letter strongly recommends that the Ad Hoc Committee focus on measures to promote diversity and pluralism, as well as promoting equitable access to the means of communication, and guaranteeing the right of access to information and creating an enabling environment for both freedom of expression and equality.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

• To view the full text of the open letter, please go to: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/open-letter-to-the-un-ad-hoc-committee-for-the-elaboration-of-complementary-.pdf
• For more information please contact: Dr Sejal Parmar at: sejal@article19.org, or +44 20 7324 2500

More Support for Media Freedom in Africa

23 October 2009

European Union: More Support Should be Provided for Media Freedom in Africa

On the occasion of the European Development Days, ARTICLE 19 joins with the Africa Forum for Media Development, the African Media Initiative, the Global Forum for Media Development, the International Federation of Journalists and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in calling for stronger dedicated European Union support to media freedom in Africa.

“Everyone agrees that media freedom and development are central to democracy and sustainable development,” says Dr Agn├Ęs Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “The EU needs to do more to support this central pillar of human progress.”

In their Statement to European Development Days, Stockholm, October 22-24, 2009, the organisations welcome the priority that the European Union (EU) and African Union have agreed to give to the issue of media development. However, the organisations called for a meeting to be held with key stakeholders to focus on the way forward and to consider the practical proposals that have been made, and in particular the proposal to institute an African Peer Review Mechanism for Media Freedom and Access to Information.

The six organisations also outlined ten points to promote media freedom and development in Africa, including the following:
• A clear political commitment should be made to implement the principles of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.
• Dedicated funds should be allocated to media development, which should not be channelled through government.
• Support should be provided to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
• An African Peer Review Mechanism for Media Freedom and Access to Information should be created as a matter of priority.

ARTICLE 19 urges the EU to provide more support for media freedom and development initiatives in Africa and urges African governments to do more to respect media freedom.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

• The Statement is available at: www.gfmd.info
• For more information please contact: Martin Clark martin@article19.org +44 20 7324 2500