Of 120 violations brought against Turkey, 20 were regarding the right to fair trial. The rest detailed the violation of freedom of assembly and association, of the prohibition on torture, the right to liberty and security and the right to life.
The ECHRs’ rulings come against a backdrop of growing domestic and international attention on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey; as it was announced on Wednesday that Turkish prosecutors are to seek multiple life sentences for Can Dündar and Erdem Gül.
Johannes Hahn, EU enlargement commissioner, has expressed shock at the decision to seek combined sentences. Hahn stated on his twitter account that Turkey negotiating EU membership, must ensure full respect of human rights, including freedom of expression.
Dündar and Gül are charged with assisting terrorists for their part in publishing footage allegedly showing Turkish intelligence agency trucks transporting arms to Syria.
Editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dündar, and senior editor, Erdem Gül, released the footage in question in May of last year. After the publication of the footage and an accompanying article President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised that the journalists would, “pay a heavy price for this.”
While Erdogan admits that the trucks heading to Syria were owned by the Turkish intelligence agency, he maintains that they were carrying aid for Syrian Turkmen, and believes Dündar and Gül to have acted in concert with a “parallel state,” aiming at undermining the government’s reputation and lowering Turkey’s standing in the world.
The indictment accuses Dündar and Gül of collaborating with Gülenist terror network FETÖ “to create the perception in Turkey and in the world that Turkey was helping terrorist organizations to associate the government with terrorism” according to pro-government Daily Sabah.
The two men were arrested in November of last year, shortly after the snap elections that cemented the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) hold on power in the Turkish parliament. The prosecution is seeking a life sentence, plus thirty years, without the possibility of parole for the journalists; in addition, if convicted they would both spend 23 hours per day in solitary confinement.
During his recent visit to Turkey, US Vice President Joe Biden met with Dündar’s wife and son after criticizing the Turkish government for setting a bad regional example in regards to freedom of the press. President Erdoğan has responded that terrorist propaganda could not be considered within the limits of free speech.
Dündar and Gül told Reuters in a faxed message that they believed their arrest to be aimed at discouraging other Turkish journalists from doing their jobs. The government denies any political motivation behind the prosecutions.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists Turkey currently has 14 journalists imprisoned, most of whom are being charged with working to promote terrorism in the guise of the “parallel state,” or the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Biyanet has reported the number as higher; 21 journalists and 9 publishers.
An arrest warrant has also been issued by Turkish authorities for Refik Tekin, IMC TV photographer and cameraman, who was shot by security forces last week while covering the ongoing curfew in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish province of Cizre.
International and domestic press organizations have demanded the order be revoked, and Tekin’s employer IMC TV have also issued a formal objection to the terror charges. The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) has expressed dismay and called for an “end to the attacks against the people’s right to demand information.”
Refik Tekin remains in hospital, continuing treatment. He won the Metin Göktepe Journalism Award alongside his colleague Saadet Yıldız for his coverage of ISIS members crossing into Turkey.
Turkey was ranked 149 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in 2015.
Turkey’s Directorate General of Press and Information has denied allegations of violations on press freedom however, arguing that the recent release of a 67 person list of detained journalists was mistaken. According to Hürriyet Daily News, the agency declared that only 11 on this list were actually detained and that the majority were jailed either on terrorism charges or petty offences. They further argued that only five possessed press cards.