UN rights expert, OSCE representative condemn Turkish gov’t’s crackdown on media

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The two top holders of media freedom; the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur David Kaye and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović condemned the ongoing crackdown on journalists and the media launched by the Turkish government in the wake of the attempted coup in a statement on Thursday.

Reminding that dozens of journalists were recently arrested and a large number of media outlets were closed, “The simultaneous arrests of independent journalists and shutdowns of print and broadcast media strike a major blow against public debate and government accountability,” the experts warned. “We strongly urge the Turkish authorities to reconsider these decisions and confirm their obligations to media freedom.”

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government ordered the closure of three news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio channels, 45 papers and 15 magazines. Since the attempted coup on July 15, authorities have issued arrest warrants against 89 journalists and have already arrested several of them, blocked access to more than 20 news websites, revoked the licenses of 29 publishing houses, and cancelled a number of press accreditations.

“It is quite clear that this wave of restrictions against media groups does not meet the basic international standards concerning restrictive measures even in times of emergency,” Mijatović said.

“The disregard for any assurance of due process is flagrant and only contributes to the extreme levels of insecurity affecting all those working to inform people of the ongoing crisis in the country.”

“The attempted coup cannot justify such a broad attack against almost all voices, not just critical ones but analytic and journalistic,” Kaye said.

“The widespread and abrupt nature of the measures, lacking even the basic elements of due process, is shocking and unprecedented in recent times in Turkey,” he added.

Kaye also pointed out that Turkish government’s purging of personnel and institutions of what it perceives as being dissenting and critical voices, solely on the basis of allegations of membership in the Gülen movement, clearly violates standards of international human rights law.

The detentions arrests and closures have been on suspicion of membership in the so-called Fetullahist Terrorist Organization [FETÖ], which is used by the government-backed judiciary to frame sympathizers of the Gülen movement.

Both experts reportedly expressed their continued willingness to discuss their concerns with Turkish authorities. UN Special Rapporteur Kaye will be visiting Turkey on an official visit in November, at the invitation of the Government. OSCE Representative Mijatović reiterated her Office’s assistance in improving media freedom, including a visit to the country.

A group of rebel soldiers, acting out of chain of command, attempted a military coup at around 10 p.m. on July 15, which left more than 200 people – including civilians – dead.

The Turkish government managed to suppress the coup attempt and launched a large-scale crackdown across the country on media, public servants, judges, prosecutors and teachers, along with rebels within the army. The detentions, arrests and massive purges that followed the crackdown widened and increased after a state of emergency was declared on July 20, concentrating power formally into the hands of Erdoğan by allowing him and his cabinet to make laws by fiat.

Erdoğan has accussed the Gülen movement of being behind the coup attempt and demanded extradition of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen from the US. Thousands of public servants, judges, prosecutors and journalists were detained by the Turkish police for allegedly having links to the Gülen movement.

Meanwhile, Gülen recently issued a statement condemning the failed military coup attempt in Turkey, calling the allegations of his involvement “demeaning.”

The Gülen movement is a grassroots social initiative inspired by Gülen and carries out charitable activities all around the world, including education, distributing humanitarian aid and providing drinking water especially in African countries.

The Gülen movement is not considered to have influence over the Turkish military, which is known for its Kemalist roots that is against the Gülen movement. The rebel military officials who attempted to stage a coup named themselves as “Council of Peace At Home,” in a declaration they forcibly had delivered via the state-run broadcaster TRT on Friday night. The name is a reference to “Peace at home, peace in the world,” which is a famous saying by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

Since a corruption investigation erupted on Dec. 17, 2013 and led to the resignation of four Cabinet ministers, Erdoğan has launched a witch hunt targeting shop owners, teachers, members of the judiciary, journalists and police officers who are accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is also known as the Hizmet movement. The graft probe implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.

Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of plotting to overthrow his government and said that sympathizers of the movement within the police department had fabricated the corruption scandal. Since then, hundreds of police officers have been detained and some arrested for alleged illegal activity in the course of the corruption investigation. Erdoğan openly said he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. The Gülen movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it.

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