Turkey should reverse all anti-press measures and laws

April 9, 2014

His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey
Vekaletler Caddesi Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
P.K. 06573; Kızılay, Ankara

Faxed to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC:
+1 202 612 6744

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,

We are writing to express our concern about the Turkish government’s recent steps to restrict the independent Turkish media. In the recent past, your country was hailed as a model for a region aspiring for freedom, democracy, and tolerance. But today Turkey is being criticized as a country that is drifting away from the principles and practices that define true democracy.  

With the Turkish press already under heavy pressure, the Internet has become a vital information-sharing tool in the country. In recent weeks, wiretapped leaks of conversations by officials in your government have been distributed on the Internet. But whereas corruption and confidential data leaks are a challenge for every government, going after the media outlets and journalists who cover the leaked information–as is their job–does not serve democracy or national security. Still, in recent weeks, Twitter has been banned, YouTube blocked, a restrictive Internet law adopted, and you have threatened to shut down Facebook.

And it’s not just online media that is under fire. Recent measures by your government show that you continue to perceive the traditional press as your enemy. A photographer for Today’s Zaman, Derviş Genç, was detained recently after taking pictures at a pro-government rally; the license of Kanaltürk TV was suspended; you filed lawsuits against Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş and Deputy Editor Mehmet Kamış, alleging that they “humiliated” you on Twitter; and you said that Emre Uslu, a columnist with Today’s Zaman, and Önder Aytaç, a journalist formerly with the independent newspaper Taraf, were involved in a national security leak.

These recent measures, as well as the imprisonment of journalists, the use of force against the press covering protests, and the sacking of critical journalists in major news organizations, are a setback for Turkish democracy and a sharp reversal of the reform process that you and your party, the AKP, have pushed forward since 2002. Your actions confirm international apprehension that Turkey is going down an authoritarian path, one that undermines your country’s reputation, political aspirations, economic interests, and international partnerships.

As a founding member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is held by the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and liable to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. But many of the measures and laws your government has adopted clearly violate these obligations. Despite being a candidate for EU membership, Turkey has distanced itself from the criteria of rule of law, democracy, and human rights that it has pledged to attain.

CPJ has consistently monitored the state of press freedom in Turkey and has actively engaged with your government. In multiple meetings and correspondences with Turkish authorities, we have been assured that the government would respect international press freedom standards. But violations against the Turkish press have only stepped up in recent months and the media environment in Turkey grows increasingly repressive. Although the release last month of more than a dozen journalists was a step forward, it does not offset these many steps in the wrong direction.

We therefore respectfully urge you to reverse all measures and laws aimed at hampering the free flow of information. The ban on YouTube should be lifted and any further attempts to stifle social media should be stopped; the prosecution, detention, and harassment of journalists in retaliation for their work should cease; the aggressive anti-press rhetoric should be abandoned once and for all; and your government should take on meaningful judicial reforms to reform its anti-press statutes. Your government should also hold accountable the killers of journalists, such as in the Hrant Dink case, and free the journalists still held behind bars in relation to their work.  

Turkey’s ambitions to be a regional leader cannot be met in a context of increased censorship and intolerance to dissent. Prime Minister Erdoğan, you must not miss this historic opportunity for Turkey to act as a model of democracy and tolerance in the region. We urge you to stop moving away from that goal and resume Turkey’s march toward the advanced democracy that you and your party promised to bring to your country.


Joel Simon
Executive Director

Cc List:

Turkish Ambassador to the United States Namık Tan

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy Catherine Ashton

President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy

Director of the Office of the Greek Presidency, Ambassador Dimitris Caramitsos-Tziras

EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis

Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe Neelie Kroes

President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament Elmar Brok

Chair of the European Parliament Human Rights Subcommittee Barbara Lochbihler

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks