15. RESOLUTION on Turkey. Submitted by
Resolution #15 TURKEY. Submitted by Norwegian PEN, seconded by German PEN
and PEN America
Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 81st World Congress in Québec
City, Canada 13-16 October 2015
Freedom of expression is one of the most frequently violated rights in Turkey. According to
statistics for 2014 released by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Turkey singlehandedly surpassed the 46 other states in the Council of Europe (CoE) in terms of cases
involving violations of the right to freedom of expression in 2014.
Violations of this fundamental right increased after a corruption investigation was exposed in
December 2013, which included senior government officials and President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan's inner circle.
Online censorship—in the form of blocking and filtering content—has risen notably. In the
past 24 months the government has repeatedly blocked Twitter and YouTube when content
deemed critical of the government has been posted. President Erdoğan has gone so far as
to call social media the “worst menace to society” and has vowed to “wipe out Twitter.”
On 6 April 2015, an Istanbul court gave an order to block access to 166 websites, including
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, for publishing a photograph of slain prosecutor Mehmet
Selim Kiraz. Over 30 students and activists were brutally killed in Suruç, a small town on the
border to Syria, on 20 July 2015 in a suicide bombing. The massacre was followed by
restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The government blocked Twitter for
several hours until Twitter complied with a Turkish court order requiring it to remove all
images of the massacre. Police in Suruç responded to the protests against the killings with
force, including tear gas and water cannon, and all gatherings were banned. Local
authorities in other cities similarly banned protests. More recently, the government restricted
news coverage and access to social media following an attack in Ankara that killed at least
97 people and injured hundreds more.
PEN International is concerned that blanket bans on social media represent a
disproportionate mass-interference with the rights of millions of users to freedom of
expression and are in contravention of a series of landmark rulings by the Turkish
Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
PEN is also concerned that the ban on gatherings may have been intended to discourage
criticism of the government’s policy on Syria, including through the peaceful exercise of the
right to protest. Peaceful protests are a legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of
peaceful assembly and expression, and the Turkish authorities are obliged by international
law to facilitate them.
On 14 December 2014 five journalists and six screenwriters were detained on suspicion of
involvement in an illegal organisation, following a series of police raids in the cities of
Istanbul, Eskişehir and Van. All were later released, although one, Ekrem Dumanli - the
editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily - is facing trial on anti-terrorism charges.
Journalist Mehmet Baransu was also arrested and charged on 2 March 2015 with obtaining
secret state documents. Baransu faces up to eight years in prison on grounds that he
illegally obtained and published these documents. In a separate case, he was sentenced to
10 months in prison in June 2015 for ‘insulting’ President Erdogan while he was Prime
Minister and remains held.
Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar has been subjected to repeated judicial harassment
in recent years. Erdoğan has lodged several complaints of defamation against him; most
recently a complaint of espionage has been lodged in connection with his legitimate work as
PEN International is aware of at least 20 cases of journalists on trial in Turkey under Article
299 or other laws for allegedly insulting Erdoğan in articles, columns, posts on social media,
and even a defence delivered in court. PEN International opposes the criminalisation of
defamation in all cases, as such penalties violate the right to freedom of expression.
Internet repression is further deepened with the passing of the National Intelligence Agency
(MİT) law, which gives the Turkish Telecommunications Authorities wider powers to block
websites and to access data without a court order. Turkey has been criticised for giving MİT
carte blanche to act without accountability to the press or the law. Under the new law, MİT
has the power to exempt personnel who commit human rights abuses in the course of their
duties from prosecution; to access private data without a court order; and to ask for prison
sentences of up to nine years for Turkish journalists who report on leaked intelligence data
or their activities. Again, the government’s primary concern appears to be the controlling of
information that enters the public sphere with no regard for whether or not it is in the public
interest in a democratic society.
PEN International fears that the accumulation of mass surveillance legislation, censorship,
attacks on and imprisonment of writers for their opinions is serving to deter others from
publishing critical material and is ultimately fostering an atmosphere of self-censorship in
The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the Republic of Turkey to:
Ensure free and open debate and expression, offline and online;
Ensure that the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey is fully protected;
End all use of excessive force in the dispersal of protests;
Review all relevant articles of the law with a view to bringing them into accord with
international human rights standards, in particular the ICCPR and the European
Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a state party;
Drop the recent national security case against Can Dündar, as well as the ongoing
criminal defamation case;
Release Turkish investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu, overturn his conviction for
defamation drop all charges against him
Release all other journalists and other writers detained or on trial in violation of their
peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.