Washington debates Turkish Human Rights

On October 23rd, the influential Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center issued “From Rhetoric to Reality: Reframing U.S. Turkey Policy”, a report which, among other recommendations, calls on the U.S. government to “speak out against the imprisonment and firing of journalists, the targeting of businesses belonging to opposition figures for arbitrary audits and investigations, and other means of muzzling dissent that are being employed in Turkey.” [See here for video from the session]

To anyone following Turkey’s imprisonment of journalists and suppression of media freedom, the report’s statement on press freedom should hardly come as a surprise. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists  wrote Prime Minister Erdogan last month pointing out that grave threats persist” to Turkey’s journalists. The EU Commission’s October 16 report on Turkey’s progress in meeting EU criteria for membership, is similarly critical,

[The] state officials themselves continued to launch suits against critical journalists and writers. This, together with the high concentration of media ownership in the hands of industrial conglomerates with interests going far beyond the free circulation of information, continued to lead to widespread self-censorship by media owners and journalists.

Amnesty International, of course, has been long highlighted these concerns.  “The right to freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey. Hundreds of abusive prosecutions are brought against activists, journalists, writers and lawyers. It is one of Turkey’s most entrenched human rights problems,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia at the release of Amnesty’s landmark report on freedom of expression earlier this year.

Sadly, Turkey, or at least Turkey’s ruling party, continue to deny there is any persecution of journalists going on.  A particularly telling example of this occurred at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s discussion of their report on “Reframing U.S Turkey Policy”.  During the question and answer session, a participant, who identified himself as a member of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, tried to convince the audience that imprisoned Turkish journalists were not in prison “for what they think,” and that many of those with journalist credentials “had bombs strapped to them.”

The first step in Turkey’s improving its record on free expression is for the AKP government to admit there is a problem.  Judging from the reaction of the Parliamentarian present at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s session, that step still needs to be taken.

Bill Jones, Turkey Coordination Group Chair, Amnesty International – USA

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