HRW head: Erdoğan, Sisi violate human rights to great extremes

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Kenneth Roth talks during the World Reporters 2011 press briefing in Brussels on January 24, 2011. As Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov arrives for his first visit to Brussels, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) wishes to express the extreme concern about the situation in Uzbekistan where 16 human rights defenders, including 8 members of the FIDH member organisation, HRSU, remain detained. FIDH denounces the invitation sent by the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, to a dictator directly responsible for massive human rights violations in the absence of any improvement on the human rights situation and of any demonstrated willingness to positively engage on this matter. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have violated human rights to great extremes in their own countries as they “suppressed any peaceful protest against their rule,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in launching the “World Report 2017.”

Speaking in a two minute, 26 second video posted by HRW for the introduction of “World Report 2017,” Roth stated that the rise of populist leaders in the US and Europe encourages abuse by autocrats around the world and poses a great threat to human rights across the globe.

According to Roth, strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security.

“People like President Erdoğan in Turkey or President Sisi in Egypt, at first, had great popularity when Erdoğan went against the alleged plotters of the coup, or Sisi went against the Muslim Brotherhood. But each took that willingness to violate human rights to great extremes as they suppressed any peaceful protest against their rule,” said Roth.

The US-based rights group HRW on Thursday released its 687-page “World Report 2017,” which reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries, including Turkey.

According to the report, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s efforts to silence the critical media involved five main trends:

“The prosecution and jailing of journalists; takeover of media companies—including the daily Zaman newspaper—by appointing government-approved trustees and seizing assets and the closing down of media; removal of critical television stations from the main state-owned satellite distribution platform and their closure; physical attacks and threats against journalists; and government pressure on media to fire critical journalists and cancel their press accreditation. Blocking of news websites critical to the government also increased. Turkey made the highest number of requests to Twitter of any country to censor individual accounts,” the report said.

It was also stated that following the coup attempt, the government closed down more than 160 media outlets, most linked to the Gülen movement or Kurdish media.

The fact that Turkey is the worst jailer of journalists was widely criticized in the report.

“The number of journalists in pretrial detention on the basis of their writing and journalistic activities surged to 144 by mid-November, making Turkey once again a world leader in jailing journalists. Presenting no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, authorities detained many reporters and columnists employed by media outlets allegedly linked to Gülen. Among those jailed pending investigation were veteran journalists and commentators who have been prominent government critics such as Nazlı Ilıcak, Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Altan, and Mehmet Altan.”

The crackdown in Turkey is not only limited to the Gülen movement, but “also extended to the pro-Kurdish opposition party, with two leaders and other MPs arrested and placed in pretrial detention, along with many of its elected mayors, denying millions of voters their elected representatives,” according to the report.

“Blanket curfews continued for many months during security operations in Cizre and other towns and neighborhoods, impeding access for journalists and human rights investigators. Authorities demolished large areas of the majority Kurdish cities of Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Nusaybin, and Yüksekova.”

Mass arrests of Kurdish politicians are also widely covered in the report.

“In May, the government secured the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of 148 deputies, 53 of them members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) facing investigation on terrorism charges. In August, the government introduced a decree appointing trustees to take over 28 municipalities (24 of them in the southeast), removing elected mayors and council members from office. By mid-November, 53 had been dismissed and 39, including Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, co-mayors of Diyarbakır, arrested pending investigation. In November, nine HDP members of parliament including party leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ were arrested and placed in pretrial detention.” (Turkey Purge).

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