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20 Years of Media Freedom: Ambiguity of Concepts Leads to Serious Encroachments on Freedom of Expression

23.11.2022
bianet/ IPS Communication Foundation has published a report entitled A Glance at 20 Years of Media Freedom 2001 - 2021. The report, which assessed the last 20 years of freedom of expression in relation to media organs and journalists in Turkey, said that Turkey is still far from the standards of international law in terms of freedom of expression.

The report was prepared by Ulaş Karan based on the BIA Media Monitoring Reports prepared quarterly and annually by Erol Önderoğlu between 2001 and 2021 and published by bianet.

Almost half of the freedom of expression cases submitted to the ECtHR originate from Turkey

418 (about 41 percent) of the 1010 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments on violations of freedom of expression between 1959 and 2021 caused by 47 States Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, published in early 2022, are cases against Turkey.

Since September 23, 2012, when the individual complaints procedure was introduced, until the end of 2021, the Constitutional Court has issued a decision on 663 applications for violations of freedom of expression.

The ambiguity of the terms leads to serious interference with freedom of expression

While the report states, "It is noted that the encroachments against media organs and journalists have not decreased but increased and hardened over a period of 20 years," prominent reasons cited for the restrictions against journalists are "Fight against terrorism," "Insult," "Insulting the people to hatred and enmity," "Contempt of the state or state organs and the Turkish Nation."

In the past 20 years, the most prominent reason for limitation has been the "fight against terrorism"; in the report, it was noted that the ambiguity of the concepts of "legitimizing", "praising" or "encouraging" in the text of the crime of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" in Article 7 of the "Anti-Terror Law" led to heavy interferences with the freedom of expression.

The report said:

"It is necessary to clearly define which acts constitute terrorist offenses in the provisions that are defined as "terrorism" crimes in the relevant laws, and to prevent statements that do not incite or incite violence from being considered "terrorist offenses." This continues to lay the groundwork for interference with freedom of expression."

The report highlighted that compensation suits filed alleging defamation also occupy an important place among encroachments on freedom of expression.

The report noted that "the crime of inciting the public to hatred and enmity," which is regulated by Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code, has long been in force as one of the basic provisions restricting freedom of expression.

The report, which highlights that the use of the article "inciting the public to hatred and enmity" has increased from 2015, notes that criminal proceedings initiated on charges of inciting the public to hatred and enmity have continued steadily and occupy an important place among encroachments on freedom of expression.

"Since 2015, the number of people investigated for this crime increased almost 26-fold by 2020, and the number of people convicted increased 53-fold."

"Contempt of the Turkish Nation, State or State organs"

It was noted that criminal cases against the crime of "insulting the Turkish nation, the state or state organs,"which is regulated by Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, show continuity and occupy an even more important place among encroachments on freedom of expression than before.

An important piece of information in the report is that the number of people investigated in 2019 and 2020 increased tenfold compared to 2009.

The most frequently cited legal provision for freedom of expression violations is "insulting the president"

The study found that the offense of insulting the president, which is regulated by Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, is one of the most frequently cited legal regulations related to violations of freedom of expression over the past eight years. While the number of people investigated was 455 and the number of people convicted was 29 in 2010, these numbers increased to 36,066 and 31,297 and 3,831 and 3,325 in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

The restrictions of the RTUK are permanent

Looking at the practice of the last 20 years, it was found that the interventions of the RTUK restricting the right to freedom of expression are permanent.

The report also informed that according to the information compiled from the RTUK's annual activity reports, 801 broadcasting bans were issued for various reasons in the last 11 years. It was emphasized that the number of broadcasting bans has increased, especially since 2017.

Still far from international standards

The report noted that media organs and journalists are among the groups that are subjected to the most frequent and severe interferences, and that Turkey is still far from the standards of international law in terms of freedom of expression.
"It is seen that the violation of the legal provisions in the international conventions and laws to which Turkey is a party continues from time to time and multiplies quantitatively. Turkey is not fulfilling its legal obligations arising from this legal framework. On the contrary, it systematically violates freedom of expression, which is protected by international conventions and the Constitution, in all its dimensions.

The record of freedom of expression in Turkey over the past 20 years

  • In the first five years, lawsuits for incitement to hatred and enmity (TCK art. 216) were at the top,
  • In the second five years, i.e. from 2005, it can be noted that the crime of disparagement of the Turkish nation, the state, the institutions and organs of the state (TCK art. 301) came to the fore.
  • In the third five years, while the interventions against journalists before 2010 were more on an individual level, the 2010s show a phenomenon in which a large number of journalists were tried at the same time in the same case, which can be called collective trials of journalists.
  • In the last five years, the crime of insulting the president seems to have become the most important crime. On the other hand, criminal trials for defamation, compensation trials for defamation, and criminal trials based on the relevant articles of the Anti-Terror Law are a phenomenon that has not changed in the last twenty years.

You can read the full report in the document below.

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