Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) commissioner for human rights, has voiced disappointment over an 18-month jail sentence handed down to journalist and human rights activist Murat Çelikkan.
Çelikkan, who stood trial for serving as “editor-in-chief on duty” for the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily, was given the sentence on charges of disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization. He was among a group of intellectuals and press freedom activists who launched a campaign in solidarity with the daily last year, which was under heavy government pressure. Prominent journalists and academics served as the “editor-in-chief on duty” for the newspaper as an act of solidarity.
“A prominent Turkish human rights defender, Murat Çelikkan has made invaluable contributions to my Office and the Council of Europe as co-director of Hakikat Adalet Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Center), notably on issues relating to missing persons,” Muižnieks said in a statement issued by his office on Thursday.
Özgür Gündem, along with 14 other media outlets, was eventually shut down by a government decree on issued on Oct. 29, 2016.
The CoE commissioner said Çelikkan’s conviction provides a worrying illustration of a continuing trend of judicial actions targeting human rights defenders and an increasingly wide range of other civil society actors, on which he has expressed his concerns in a recent memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey.
“Criminal prosecutions and convictions of human rights defenders for conduct that should be covered by freedom of expression creates a chilling effect on the exercise of such freedom and effectively prevents human rights defenders from pursuing their invaluable work. I call once more on the Turkish authorities to urgently ensure that judicial practice concerning freedom of expression in Turkey is fully aligned with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights,” added Muižnieks.