The Human Rights Platform and the Human Rights Committee of T.C. Bar Association Joint Press Release
In a democratic society, restricting freedom of expression, subjecting it to repressive control or censorship is not acceptable. Public figures, especially politicians, institutions and organizations of the state should naturally be more open to political criticism and questioning. In this regard, the protection of even disturbing, disgusting, unpleasant, shocking expressions is necessary from the point of view of human rights and is of key importance from the point of view of democratic values.
There are several cases we have been following for some time and that have come to the public's attention that indicate we are facing a serious problem. Most recently, an investigation was launched and prosecution has begun against Ali Kişmir, a journalist and Basın-Sen Chairperson, within the scope of 'Law on Military Crimes and Punishments'. Unfortunately, Ali Kişmir’s case exemplifies the growing threat to the right to freedom of expression in our country. There are many similar cases that have been brought to the trial stage. Even though acquittals have previously been granted in similar cases, there are still lawsuits filed under articles such as “possession of banned books”, “membership to an illegal organization”, “insulting the president” or “destroying confidence in the banking system”.
Below are examples of such cases:
1. In 2017, an EMU student was charged with “membership in an illegal organization” and “possession of propaganda publications belonging to an illegal society" for having "banned books" in his possession and is still being tried. The individual's computer, confiscated in 2017, has yet to be returned to them. Moreover, a ban on leaving the country has been imposed upon them. Adjudication has not begun although the defendant and their lawyer are present for each hearing.
2. in 2018, a lawsuit was filed against an individual for having Kurdish music on their USB drive, but the trial has not yet started.
3. Since March 2019, the case of Bergül Gargınsu and Simge Alıcı has not been completed and their ban on leaving the country continues.
4. In 2020, charges were brought up againts Erdal Eryener for insulting the President and he has been banned from traveling abroad. Obtaining permission from the court each time for treatment in territories controlled by the Republic of Cyprus has turned into torment for Erdal Eryener, a renal patient.
5. Abdullah Korkmazhan was arrested in March 2021 for “insulting the president” and the prosecutor's office requested a ban on traveling abroad until the case is prepared, but the court rejected this request. The court ruled, however, that Abdullah Korkmazhan must report to the police station once a week to give his signature, in order to ensure his presence at trial.
6. 6 charges were brought against Avrupa Gazetesi and its journalists by the police in December 2021.
7. 3 additional charges were brought against Avrupa Gazetesi and its journalists by the police in December 2021. A suit was also filed against Hasan Ulaş Altıok who has no involvement with the matter.
8. 6 charges were brought by the police against Meriç Erülkü, a businessperson who claimed that a bank committed a crime and that the crimes were covered up, for allegedly spreading unfounded news that could damage the banking system and/or trust in banks or damage their reputation or wealth.
9. The same charge was brought against Lawyer Mehmet Şahoğlu who tweeted that a bank he kept unnamed had committed a crime.
10. Lastly, the charge of defamation and derision of the legal entity of security forces was filed by the police against Basın-Sen Chairperson Ali Kişmir on the grounds of an article he had written a year and a half ago.
Taking into account the Constitution, the human rights conventions contained in our legislation, as well as the case law that has been created in connection with these conventions, the above-mentioned issues should not have been the subject of an investigation or lawsuit, but should have been evaluated within the framework of freedom of expression. For example, the restriction of journalists' freedom of expression through the risk of criminal sanctions constitutes a violation of rights in light of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings which are binding for our domestic law. On the contrary, the protection of journalists against the risks they face while performing their profession is one of the positive obligations of the state in accordance with human rights obligations. Based on the repeated and clear case law it produces, the ECtHR agrees that articles of law which stipulate criminal sanctions that may jeopardize freedom of expression could lead to violations of the right to freedom of expression, harm democracy, and cause self-censorship in communities in light of the principle of proportionality. However, certain legal regulations and political pressures in our country create the basis for conducting investigations that disregard freedoms and violate human rights followed by the conducting of criminal trials.
First and foremost, necessary measures should be taken to protect freedom of expression in a broad sense and freedom of the press in particular. The first step in this direction is to amend the existing legal regulations that contradict freedom of expression. Furthermore, the difficulties faced by journalists in the exercise of their profession should be identified and they should be protected in accordance with the positive obligations of the state.
We as the Human Rights Platform and Cyprus Turkish Bar Association demand that such restrictive and violative practices injuring our country's culture of democracy come to an end at once, and declare that we will monitor all pending cases and work actively towards legal changes. We accordingly announce that we will support the protest to be held outside the courthouse on Monday, 28 February at 09.00 and invite all those who care about the fundamental right of each individual to freedom of expression to lend support.
Constituents of the Human Rights Platform and the Human Rights Committee of the Cyprus Turkish Bar Association,
Universal Patient Rights Association,
Queer Cyprus Association,
Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation,
Refugee Rights Association,
Think Positive Initiative,
Civil Society Initiative Association
Third Community Forum