The penal code and antiterror law contain multiple articles that restrict freedom of the press. International and domestic human rights organizations expressed particular concern over what they regarded as an overly broad definition of terrorism under the antiterror law and its disproportionate use by authorities against members of the press, academics, students, and members of the political opposition and Kurdish activist community. Human rights monitors also emphasized that the penal code contains multiple articles that directly restrict press freedom and free speech, for example, through inclusion of provisions on praising a crime or criminal, inciting the population to enmity or hatred and denigration, and protecting public order.
Authorities indicted journalists for: refusing to provide information about their sources and investigations; taking part in antigovernment plots; being members of outlawed political groups; attempting to influence the judiciary; insulting the Turkish nation, the Turkish Republic, its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or organs and institutions of the state; and discouraging individuals from doing their military service.
During the Gezi Park protests, the government regularly monitored social media and in some cases issued arrest warrants for those who organized or supported the protests via their Twitter and Facebook accounts. In Izmir on June 4, 38 Twitter users, mostly 18 to 27 years of age, were detained for up to 36 hours for “inciting riots and conducting propaganda” and “encouraging breaking of the law” for tweets that indicated areas where police were intervening against protesters and safe areas where medical help could be sought. Hearings on the case continued. AI reported that another investigation against 50 Facebook users continued in Antakya. Some government officials, including the prime minister, also encouraged citizens to report to authorities or sue neighbors who had participated in widespread banging of pots and pans, flashing of lights, and honking of horns at 9:00 p.m. in a show of support for the Gezi protests.
Freedom of Speech: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government continued to restrict expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, and Kurdish nationalist or cultural viewpoints. Active debates on human rights and government policies continued in the public sphere, particularly on problems relating to political Islam, Kurds, and the history of the Turkish-Armenian conflict at the end of the Ottoman Empire. Government critics and human rights associations acknowledged that open debate on some topics, most notably Kurdish issues, was more accepted than it was a decade ago; nonetheless, many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics involving the ruling party of the prime minister risked investigation. Some opinion leaders reported that they exercised self-censorship.
Article 301 of the penal code criminalizes insults to the Turkish nation. The Ministry of Justice reported receiving 271 complaints concerning article 301 through September 30--an increase from 247 in 2012--of which it rejected 93 percent.
In June 2012 prosecutors charged pianist Fazil Say with “denigrating the values of a section of the population” by retweeting a tweet about “Allahists,” referring to followers of Allah. On April 15, the court convicted Say, giving him a 10-month prison sentence, suspended provided he does not repeat the offense within two years. The court reaffirmed the sentence in September. Say’s appeal continued at year’s end.
Following an official complaint by Prime Minister Erdogan, the Konya chief prosecutor opened an investigation against Anadolu University student Osman Garip, accusing him of continually “insulting” Erdogan on his Facebook account, beginning on May 24. On July 10, authorities questioned Garip and released him pending trial. On November 12, the Seventh Criminal Court convicted Garip and sentenced him to just over one year in prison. Garip claimed he did not write the posts and said his account may have been hacked; his appeal continued.
Press Freedoms: The print media was privately owned and active. Hundreds of private newspapers spanning the political spectrum published in numerous languages, including Kurdish, Armenian, Arabic, English, and Farsi. Conglomerates or holding companies, many of whom had conflicting interests before the government on a range of business matters, owned an increasing share of media outlets. This dynamic impeded media independence and encouraged a climate of self-censorship. The concentration of media ownership influenced the content of reporting and limited the scope of public debate.
During the Gezi Park protests, the Taksim Solidarity organization and other government critics alleged that many domestic news organizations either ignored or downplayed the demonstrations due to fear of business retribution by the government. Following a July op-ed he wrote in The New York Times on what he called the “shameful role of Turkey’s media conglomerates in subverting press freedom,” the Turkish newspaper Sabah fired journalist Yavuz Baydar. Observers generally regarded Sabah as supportive of the government. Some ruling party officials expressed satisfaction that Baydar--along with 37 others who resigned under duress or were fired for their coverage of the protests--had been punished for attempting to embarrass the country and the prime minister. According to media activists and other human rights organizations, the government exerted pressure directly or indirectly on media outlets in an attempt to censor Gezi Park coverage.
The High Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) registered and licensed a large number of privately owned television and radio stations that operated on local, regional, and national levels. In addition, privately owned television channels operated on cable networks, and the RTUK granted broadcast licenses to 14 television and radio enterprises, in addition to 40 satellite broadcast licenses and 40 radio broadcast licenses. The wide availability of satellite dishes and cable television allowed access to foreign broadcasts, including several Kurdish-language private channels.
In addition to Turkish, the RTUK allowed radio and television stations to broadcast in Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Bosnian, Circassian, Laz, and Kurdish (both the Kurmanci and Zaza dialects) during the year. Public broadcaster TRT established a Kurdish television channel (TRT 6).
On June 11, at the height of the Gezi Park protests, the RTUK convened an emergency session and imposed a fine of 11,000 Turkish lira (TL ($5,500) and a warning to Ulusal TV, Halk TV, EM TV and Cem TV for “inciting violence” in broadcasts on Gezi Park events. Persons known to oppose the ruling party owned all four stations. In November prosecutors asked for a prison sentence of one to 13 years for Ulusal TV director Naci Eris on charges of “publicly inciting the commission of offenses” through broadcasts of Gezi Park protests.
According to the TNP, authorities confiscated 185 publications through October 7, 96 of them under the antiterror law on grounds of spreading propaganda for illegal organizations--primarily the PKK, other terrorist groups such as the DHKP/C, and various extremist antistate groups.
During the year authorities continued to file numerous cases against publications under the antiterror law. The Fourth Judicial Reform Package stated that, with few exceptions, those persons convicted of “promoting terrorism propaganda” would no longer automatically receive additional punishment for the charge of membership in a terrorist organization. Prosecutors had often used this provision of the criminal code to convict members of the press who published information relating to the Kurdish issue and/or the PKK.
Printing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors at the time of publication. Media activists reported that as a means of censorship the Ministry of Culture sometimes denied approval of a barcode required for all publications.
Violence and Harassment: Prosecutors continued to bring dozens of cases against writers, journalists, and political figures under various laws that restrict media freedom. Human rights and press freedom activists asserted that authorities filed numerous civil and criminal complaints against journalists, authors, and publishers for ideological reasons. For example, in May, the Turkish Air Forces command filed a complaint against journalist Mehmet Baransu. In December he was charged with espionage for revealing confidential documents. These charges are the latest instance in an onslaught of harassment tactics leveled at Baransu since 2010, including death threats and wiretapping, widely acknowledged by observers to be a result of his investigative reporting.
Authorities at times also ordered raids on newspaper offices, temporarily closed newspapers, issued fines, or confiscated newspapers for violating speech codes. Government officials, including political leaders, made statements throughout the year that appeared intended to influence media content, including but not limited to news coverage.
During the Gezi Park protests, numerous human rights and journalists’ organizations alleged that security forces intentionally targeted journalists covering the unrest. Journalists claimed police directly aimed water cannons and tear gas at press members and smashed their cameras despite the fact that they prominently displayed their press credentials. According to the independent news entity BIANET, police assaulted at least 105 journalists while the journalists were covering the protests. During the protests police also detained at least 28 journalists, including five foreign correspondents. They detained some overnight for questioning, although ultimately no members of the press were charged for being present at the protests.
Scores of persons identified as journalists remain in prison, most charged under the antiterror law for connections to an illegal organization or for participation in antigovernment plots. On December 18, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the government had 40 journalists imprisoned, including dozens of Kurdish journalists. Their research indicates, “Broadly worded antiterror and penal code statutes allow Turkish authorities to conflate the coverage of banned groups with membership.” Reporters without Borders (RWB) listed 27 journalists and two media assistants in prison during the year. RWB also reported an Istanbul court decision of November 5 sentencing journalists Fusun Erdogan, Ibrahim Cicek, and Bayram Namaz to life imprisonment on charges of attempting to “overthrow the constitutional order” by violence and of membership in an outlawed Marxist party.
According to the Turkish Publishers Association, the Freedom for Journalists Congress put the number of detained journalists at 64 of July 24. The GDS reported that six members of the media accused of being affiliated to DHKP/C were under arrest in October, as well as two Kurdish journalists. Many pro-Kurdish or leftist journalists remained in pretrial detention in connection with the KCK cases. On October 24, a domestic NGO, the Platform for Solidarity with Imprisoned Journalists, reported that authorities had detained and convicted 65 journalists. The government asserted that they were prosecuting most of the detained journalists for crimes not related to their work. On November 4, the Ministry of Justice reported that 24 convicts and detainees carried press cards. In a November 15 joint press conference of the international literary and human rights organization PEN Turkey, the Turkey Writers Union, and the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA), the figure given for those in jail was 73 journalists, writers, and translators.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Printing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors at the time of publication. The TPA reported that publishers often exercised self-censorship by avoiding works with controversial content in order to stay out of court.
The TPA cited media sources in counting 453 books and 645 other publications banned and seized in past years by the government. With the passage of the Third Judicial Reform Package, all such bans issued prior to December 31, 2011, would be void unless renewed by a court order. The TPA reported that bans on leftist, communist, and Kurdish publications were renewed.
Writers and publishers were subject to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against myriad publications and publishers during the year, including numerous books related to the Kurdish issue.
Human rights activists and the media reported that authors practiced self-censorship to avoid prosecution. Observers also reported that, with the consolidation of media outlets under a few conglomerates that had other business interests, media entities increasingly practiced self-censorship in order to remain eligible for government contracts. Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government over fears of jeopardizing other business interests.
Libel Laws/National Security: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents from voicing criticism. The antiterror law had the greatest impact in limiting free expression. Thousands of journalists faced criminal charges, many of them multiple counts, for violations of the criminal code, including “denigrating Turkishness” or influencing the outcome of a trial as well as for offenses related to the antiterror law.
As in previous years, Prime Minister Erdogan filed numerous libel suits against his critics, including one on May 23 against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Erdogan’s lawyers asked for one million Turkish lira ($500,000) in compensation after Kilicdaroglu compared Erdogan to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and blamed him for the 51 deaths that resulted from the May 11 Reyhanli bombings. The suit remained pending at year’s end.
The government maintained restrictions on internet access. The internet law allows the government to prohibit a website if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any of eight crimes: insulting Ataturk; engaging in obscenity; engaging in prostitution; gambling; encouraging suicide; encouraging sexual abuse of children; encouraging drug abuse; or encouraging provision of substances dangerous to health. Upon receiving a complaint, or because of personal observations, a prosecutor may request that a judge prohibit access to the offending site. In an urgent situation, the Telecommunication Internet Presidency (TIB) may prohibit access while it examines the complaint. In either case a judge must rule on the matter within 24 hours. Following a judicial decision to uphold the complaint, the internet service provider (ISP) must block access within 24 hours. If the judge does not approve the block, the prosecutor must ensure the restoration of access. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for failing to comply with a judicial order. The law also allows persons who believe a website has violated their personal rights to request the TIB to order the service provider to remove the offensive content. Authorities also used the antiterror law and other sections of the penal code to block websites.
According to the Google Transparency Report, from January to June, the company received requests from the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) to remove 17 YouTube videos and 22 blogger posts because of their alleged criticism of Ataturk, the government, or national identity and values. Google restricted users from accessing 52 percent of the BTK’s YouTube videos of concern. The government also requested the removal of YouTube videos that contained clips of the movie The Innocence of Muslims.
Government authorities on occasion accessed internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. Police must obtain authorization from a judge or, in emergencies, the “highest administrative authority” before taking such action. Numerous activists and journalists alleged that the state accessed and actively monitored their email and social media accounts during the Gezi Park protests. Law 5651 allows authorities to block internet content that is obscene or promotes child abuse or gambling. According to internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, as of November, 10,258 websites were blocked--9,942 by the TIB, 285 by court order, 15 by prosecutors pending court decisions, 14 by the BTK, and two by unspecified actors.
Internet access providers are required to deploy and use filtering tools approved by the TIB. Providers who operate without official permission face administrative fines. Internet activists and the press reported that more than one million websites were blocked in internet cafes in the country. The sites of many mainstream LGBT organizations were among those blocked. The government also blocked access to the web application Grindr. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings.
According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 47 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2012, an increase from 42 percent in 2011.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Government restrictions on freedom of speech at times limited academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics and event organizers stated they practiced self-censorship on sensitive topics. Human rights organizations and student groups continued to criticize constraints placed on universities by law and by the actions of the Higher Education Board (YOK) that limited the autonomy of universities in staffing, teaching, and research policies and practice.
Former YOK president and Turkish Science Foundation president Kemal Guruz was on trial for both the Ergenekon case and the 1997 “postmodern coup case.” Authorities first detained and questioned him for four days in 2009 in connection with the Ergenekon case. They detained him again in June 2012 in connection with the 1997 coup case, and then released him pending trial. In August they jailed him again in connection with the Ergenekon case, and in September they released him for health reasons after the initial coup case hearing. Human rights activists claimed that his arrests were part of a systematic intimidation of academics who opposed the government’s efforts to introduce or assert Islamic elements into the country’s academic institutions. Prosecutors stated that Guruz had provided information about the religious orientation of Turkish university rectors to the military ahead of the 1997 “postmodern coup.” The case continued at year’s end.