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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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Article 19



In a comprehensive report published today, ARTICLE 19 and the Kurdish Human Rights Project survey freedom of expression conditions in Turkey and conclude that, with 67 journalists in Jail¹, several political parties banned, religious and cultural minorities severely repressed, and a legal framework and government determination to support such measures, Turkey cannot seriously expect to be considered for EU membership in the near future.

The Turkish authorities' determination that the state must be secular, centralised and unified leads to suppression, by force if necessary, of nay attempts to exercise publicly the right to freedom of expression on cultural, political and religious issues, since these are judged to undermine the indivisibility of the state.
The authorities consider journalists a threat, use rigid licensing regulations to control them and wilfully fail to view journalists as distinct form the issues or people on which they are reporting.

The Kurdish minority makes up more that ten per cent of the Turkish population, yet anyone who raises Kurdish issues is defined as a supporter of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Association), an organisation which advocates violence to overturn the Turkish state. This has led to prosecutions and imprisonment of academics, journalists, newspaper vendors and even democratically elected politicians. Others have faced extra-legal measures ranging from police harassment to murder by armed groups linked to the state.

Frances D'Souza, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, said:

"It is ironic that Turkey complains that it is being denied entry to the EU because of its Islamic population, when it persecutes anyone attempting to express an Islamic identity in the country. There is an urgent need for Turkey to undertake reforms so that freedom of expression is upheld as a fundamental right under the law, rather than being penalised on a regular basis".

Kerim Yildiz Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, said:

"The Constitution is one of the primary obstacles to freedom of expression in Turkey. Currently, many of Turkey's laws fall well below internationally accepted standards and contravene the government's most basic legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and commitments under the United Nations Charter".

The only 'free' press in Turkey is that which avoids subjects deemed taboo by the government. Terrestrial broadcasting is controlled by the Radio and Television Supreme Board (RTUK). Set up in 1994, the body has carte blanche to suspend stations and is currently stepping up its pace of censure. Closure orders against three pro-Kurdish radio stations totalling 240 days are being implemented since May 1998. Islamic stations also expect a clampdown, following a warning from the RTUK's head in March 1998.

Satellite television is more difficult to control, and is used for Kurdish language broadcasting, which remains illegal. Nevertheless, warnings that those caught watching Med TV² will be imprisoned for up to three months have been broadcast over loudspeakers in one town in southeastern Turkey. People with satellite dishes reported that their homes had been raided and that two men were detained for watching Med TV. Police also seized a satellite television decoder in 1997, and at the beginning of 1998, commercial outlets were ordered to note the names of buyers of satellite dishes.

Until June 1998 there appeared to be no restrictions on information received or imparted through the Internet. However, in June, 18-year-old Emre Ersoz got a 10-month suspended prison sentence for "publicly insulting the state security forces" after criticising on the Internet police ill-treatment of a group of blind people protesting against potholes in Ankara's pavements.

Turkey is one of the relatively small minority of countries which has not signed or ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. However, it is a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (it is signed in1954).

The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey to be in breach of its freedom of expression obligations (Article 10) on several occasions. More cases are pending which Turkey is also likely to lose. The European Court has proposed that prosecutions for spreading separatist propaganda, (a charge often used against writers, including academic and journalists) should not take place without the presence of a clear an imminent risk to national security.

ARTICLE 19 and the Kurdish Human Rights Project do not support the Turkish authorities' view that human rights are a purely internal affair. In accordance with the need for external pressure to uphold fundamental rights, their report makes a series of recommendations, including a number of amendments to Turkish laws and provisions to ensure that citizens are guaranteed a right to freedom of association, expression and assembly.

Notes for Editors:

1 More than half of the journalists in jail worldwide are in Turkish prisons.
2 Med TV broadcasts in Kurdish and other languages by satellite from the UK and Belgium and is perceived by the Turkish government to be closed to the PKK.