Annual Report: Turkey 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Turkey 2010

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Freedom of expression

People who expressed non-violent but dissenting opinions - particularly criticisms of the armed forces or of the position of Kurds and Armenians in Turkey - faced criminal investigation and prosecution. Among those frequently prosecuted were writers, journalists, Kurdish political activists and human rights defenders.

Numerous laws allowed the state to limit freedom of expression. Investigations and prosecutions for insulting the Turkish nation (Article 301 of the Penal Code), punishable by up to two years' imprisonment, continued to be initiated, although most were denied permission to proceed by the Minister of Justice.

  • In August prosecutors acting on behalf of the head of the armed forces brought a criminal complaint under Article 301 against journalist Mehmet Baransu. It was based on an article in the national newspaper Taraf about an alleged armed forces plot to destabilize the government. Permission for the investigation to proceed was pending at the end of the year.

Conscientious objectors and their supporters continued to be prosecuted under Article 318 of the Penal Code for publicly asserting the right to refuse compulsory military service.

  • In May the trial began in Istanbul of O?uz Sönmez, Mehmet Atak, Gür?at Özdamar and Serkan Bayrak on a charge of "alienating the public from the institution of military service" (Article 318). They had publicly supported conscientious objector Mehmet Bal in 2008. All four were acquitted.
  • The trial of Sami Görenda?, Lezgin Botan and Cüneyt Cani?, on charges brought under Article 318 following similar protests, continued at the end of the year.

A large number of prosecutions under antiterrorism legislation targeted free expression about the Kurdish issue in Turkey, and frequently resulted in the imposition of custodial sentences.

  • Osman Baydemir, Democratic Society Party Mayor of the south-eastern city of Diyarbak?r, was convicted of "making propaganda for an illegal organization" (Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law) in April. He was charged in connection with a speech he made during a protest against a Turkish military operation into northern Iraq in 2008. An appeal was pending at the end of the year.

Threats of violence from unidentified individuals continued against people who expressed dissenting opinions. Police protection was available to some of those at risk.

  • In September anti-racist group DurDe received emailed threats of violence after it brought a criminal complaint against the head of the armed forces.

The authorities closed websites by means of arbitrary administrative orders and court rulings, often without reasons being provided.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were prosecuted for their legitimate work monitoring and reporting human rights violations. Certain prominent individuals were subjected to regular criminal investigations. There was excessive administrative scrutiny by officials, and in some cases judicial proceedings were used to bring closure cases against human rights organizations.