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Council of Europe delegation finds Turkey’s elections neither free nor fair

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“I am afraid, we from the Congress of the Council of Europe are not fully convinced that Turkey currently has the free and fair electoral environment which is necessary for genuinely democratic elections in line with European values and principles,” said Andrew Dawson, head of an observation mission from the Council of Europe (CoE) at a press conference on Monday, referring to the Sunday’s local elections in Turkey.

Although Dawson mentioned the efficiency, security and transparency of voting procedures in polling stations they observed in Ankara, İstanbul, İzmir, Antalya, Adana, Erzurum and Diyarbakır, he criticized the general political environment as “under democratic.”

To be fully compatible with the principles of the Council of Europe, Dawson asserted that “it needs a political environment where there is genuine freedom of expression, where all citizens can express their opinions without fear.”

He also stressed Turkey’s suppression of journalists in the country.

According to Dawson, to be assessed as democratic Turkey’s election atmosphere must provide an environment “where journalists can carry out their reporting and commentary without running the risk of being fired for making regime-critical reports or perhaps ending up in prison just for expressing their legal and legitimate views.”

“There should be equal access for all parties running in elections to the media. Voters need to be able to get a balanced picture of the contestants’ programs and objectives. An equal playing field for all is an absolute prerequisite for an election campaign to be called fair and free,” he added.

In local elections on Sunday Turkey’s ruling party lost control of the capital city of Ankara and although disputed it very likely handed İstanbul, the country’s largest city, to the opposition alliance.

Dawson also referred to Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws and mass detentions on terrorism charges.

“We also note that Turkey’s definition of terrorism is not consistent with Council of Europe standards, notably the case law of the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.

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