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13 March

“What is imprisoned in Turkey is journalism’’

Hasan Cemal speaks at a side event of the UN Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva

In a speech he gave in Geneva today, veteran journalist and P24’s founding president Hasan Cemal raised the issue of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. ‘’What is imprisoned in Turkey is journalism. It is ‘expression’ itself,’’ Cemal said and added that they would keep fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey using the rule of law ‘’or what is left of it.’’

Cemal’s speech was part of a side event to the ongoing meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Bearing the title ‘’UNHRC34 Side Event on Turkey: Justice and Journalism’’ the event was organised by Article 19, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Federation of Human Rights, International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture, PEN International, P24 and Reporters Without Borders.

Chaired by Katie Morris (Head of Europe and Central Asia, Article 19), speakers at the event also included  David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression – via remote participation), Emma Sinclair-Webb (Turkey Director of the Human Rights Watch) and Mahmut Bozarslan (Secretary General of the Southeast Journalists Association).

Here is the full text of Hasan Cemal’s prepared comments at the event:

Turkey: Republic of Fear *
We are living in a world in which freedoms, the rule of law and human rights are increasingly falling into contempt. It is a world dominated by fear.
Fear is beginning to erode our freedoms.
We live in a a world in which fear is beginning to subjugate minds. 
This is a world of intimidation.
And that is how it is in Turkey.
In Turkey, fear grows every day.
Different voices are being suppressed.
The media is being taken over.
The judiciary is being taken over.
Academia is being taken over.
Can there be democracy and the rule of law in a country whose media is not free, whose judiciary is not free, which is deprived of academic freedoms?
Of course not.
This is the summary of the situation in Turkey.
My name is Hasan Cemal.
I am 73 years old.
I have been actively working as a journalist for 47 years.
Just last week, a prosecutor demanded a 13 year-sentence for a series of articles I wrote nearly four years ago. This is one of the many trials I now have to endure for being a journalist. I now take it for granted that this is part of the price for telling the truth in Turkey.
I have seen coups, I have lived under military administrations.
But I have never been as pessimistic as I am today.
I have never seen a period as dark as today.
I have never felt as helpless, with nothing to turn to, as I do today.
Today, Turkey has a president, his name is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
He is a president who does not feel bound by the Constitution.
According to the Constitution, the president is required to be impartial.
Erdoğan is not impartial.
He has to be above party politics.
He is not above party politics.
He violates the oath he took, he violates the Constitution.
He declares that he will not abide rulings of the Constitutional Court. He calls on lower courts to reject rulings of the Constitutional Court.
He declares the president of the Constitutional Court, who signs a decision upholding the freedom of expression a “traitor”.
He even declares the governor of the Central Bank, who does not cut interest rates, a “traitor”.
He labels businessmen who call for stronger rule of law, “traitors”.
This is the kind of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is.
He wants an order where only his voice, or the voices he likes, are heard.
He is a president who has never held a real press conference. He does not allow journalists who might ask disturbing questions in near him.
He is taking Turkey to a referendum on April 16 as a legal excuse for the one-man regime he is building.
He is campaigning for a “yes” vote, violating once again his constitutional obligation to remain impartial.
He strongarms big media bosses behind closed doors to ensure they work for a “yes” vote.
Because Erdoğan sees newspapers and television channels as nothing but propaganda tools.
But he does not stop there.
He openly accuses those who will vote “no” of being terrorists, being enemies of Islam and being supporters of the coup.
It is useful to note.
Erdoğan makes these accusations of terrorism and spying at the drop of a hat.
His judges imitate his bad habit.
For instance, I have been sentenced to prison terms for “terrorism” over my writings. Although those sentences have been suspended for now…
Then there are cases of insulting the president.
According to statements of the Justice Ministry, a total of 1,845 court cases were launched in the one and a half years between August 2014, when Erdoğan was elected as president, and March 2016. This figure has now gone up to three thousand…
“Insulting president” cases are being used as a ruthless weapon to smother freedom of expression.
Most recently, I have been sentenced to imprisonment for repeating in one of my columns the expression “tin-pot dictator” that the main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu used in a speech to describe the president
As I said, I am a journalist for 47 years. Unfortunately, in Turkey, the Erdoğan government has made journalism a crime.
I have been writing since 2013, for the internet newspaper T24. And I am the founding president of P24, a platform for independent journalism. According to the data that P24 collects from open sources and updates several times a week, there are currently 148 journalists behind bars in Turkey simply for exercising their freedom of expression.
Court cases against most of these journalists have not yet begun. They languish in prison despite the fact that prosecutors have not even written the indictment against them.
When you look at the charges on which the arrest orders are based, a crystal clear picture emerges.
       These journalists are in prison because they reported the news, because they wrote op-eds, because they spoke on TV, because they edited newspapers.
       Take Şahin Alpay – my friend, a writer and a political scientist who has dedicated most of his life to realising the dream of a democratic Turkey.
       We are the same age, we have been friends for decades.
       Şahin is jailed despite his ill-health, because he was a columnist in the newspaper Zaman, a daily that we legally published in Turkey for years.
       There is no other accusation against Şahin, no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part except for his columns. But he has been deprived of his freedom since July 30th.
My dear friend Nazlı Ilıcak, a journalist for many decades, is in a similar situation. Because she did not quit criticising Erdoğan on television news shows she was sent to prison on July 30. 
       This is a predicament shared by my very close friends, the Altan brothers -- Ahmet Altan, a novelist and a journalist and his younger brother Mehmet, a professor of economics and a journalist. The Altan brothers, who have dedicated their lives to fighting against military coups and putschism and who, like the rest of us, were shocked and angered by what happened on July 15 in Turkey, are now accused of giving “subliminal” messages in support of the coup attempt.
       You heard it right: “Subliminal” messages! It is no joke.
       Worse still, they are accused of trying to attempt to overthrow the government and the President by giving “subliminal” messages.
       The evidence?
A TV show they appeared on together July 14th and several of their columns.
What have Ahmet and Mehmet said on that show and in those columns?
What have they done other than telling Erdoğan “not to violate the Constitution and return to democracy’’?
Nothing. But the two brothers have been deprived of their freedom since 10 September 2016.
Then there is the case of my 12 friends who work for Cumhuriyet – a newspaper for which I was the the editor-in-chief for many years. They are all in prison.
They are being accused of propaganda and membership in illegal organisations. They are being labelled as terrorists.
       Any evidence to that? None, whatsoever.
       Nothing has been shown as evidence against them other than the columns they wrote and the headlines they put on their papers’ front pages. There is no evidence that they did anything other than journalism. Nevertheles, they have been in prison for almost four months.
       The same is true for my young colleagues working for the Kurdish media.
       Dozens of journalists, including myself, were put on trial for showing solidarity with the now-shuttered daily Özgür Gündem. We volunteered to be a guest editor for the day and paid a heavy price.
       İnan Kızılkaya, the editor of Özgür Gündem has been in prison for over six months now.
       In my columns and in my defense statements to various courts I always make the  point: Turkish journalists will not be free until and unless Kurdish journalists are free in Turkey.
       Dozens of Kurdish journalists have been deprived of their freedom for months now.
       And it doesn’t stop! Recently, they arrested German daily Die Welt’s reporter in Turkey, Deniz Yücel.
Because Deniz reported on the Kurdish issue. Because Deniz is a journalist.
My friends;
       It is crystal clear:
        Today, Turkey is a country that puts “expression” on trial; it is a country that arrests “expression”; a country that “imprisons” expression.
       Indeed, Turkey is a country that intends to silence ‘’expression’’ – to exterminate it.
       This is violation of a basic right.
       This is in violation of the Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Turkey has adhered to since 1949.
       This is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is a binding document for Turkey.
       What are we going to do in the face of these violations?
       What are we doing?
       We are not keeping quiet.
       Despite my trials, despite being sentenced by various courts, despite an ongoing threat of arrest and imprisonment I continue to write, to criticise and to express my opinion. I will keep doing so at T24.
       As P24, we are not keeping quiet either.
       We provide pro-bono legal support to journalists who are put on trial for exercising their freedom of expression. We defend our rights against censorship and self-censorship.
       We base our fight and our determination not to keep quiet on the rule of law.
       We will use the rule of law – or what’s left of it – in Turkey--   to fight for our rights. We are thus fighting and we will thus keep fighting.
It was therefore very important that Nils Muiznieks, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, talked about the journalists in prison in his recent report on freedom of expression in Turkey.
What the President of the Council of Europe said in a recent statement was equally important. Mr. Jagland suggested that European Court of Human Rights will look into the applications of imprisoned journalists and play its role against the violations of freedom of expression if the domestic legal remedies in Turkey prove ineffective.
Turkey recognizes the Strasbourg Court and is bound by its decisions.
It is therefore very important that the applications of my dear colleagues Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and Murat Aksoy have been given priority by the European Court of Human Rights. 
I call on the United Nations Human Rights Council and in fact everyone who has a stake in freedom of expression:
       Please pay attention to these cases!
       Read the charges, indictments, the evidence presented against journalists – read every line of those court documents. See the violations with your own eyes. Monitor the trials.
       When you monitor them, you will see for yourselves that what is on trial in Turkey is journalism. What is criminalised in Turkey is journalism. What is imprisoned in Turkey is journalism. It is “expression” itself.
       However,  freedom of expression is a basic human right for all of us. 
Thank you for listening to me.
We will keep fighting!
Journalism is not a crime.
* I borrowed the title of my speech from my dear friend Cengiz Çandar.


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