Erdogan intensifies pressure on dissident ahead of elections - HRW

Erdogan intensifies pressure on dissident ahead of elections - HRW
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The HRW said Erdogan’s “authoritarian” government regularly targeted perceived government critics and political opponents and exerted strong control over the media and judiciary

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has intensified pressure on dissident ahead of the upcoming elections, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2023.

“Erdogan’s authoritarian government regularly targeted perceived government critics and political opponents and exerted strong control over the media and judiciary in the long run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections that will take place in the first half of 2023,” HRW said.

In the Turkey section of its annual review of human rights around the globe, the HRW particularly focused on topics such as “Freedom of expression, association and assembly,” “Women’s rights”, “Human rights defenders”, “Torture and ill-treatment in custody”, “Kurdish conflict and crackdown on opposition”, “Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants”, “Sexual orientation and gender identity” and “Climate change, environment and human rights”.

Citing a government-sponsored October law criminalizing the dissemination of “false information,” the HRW said the law tightened control over social media companies and online news websites, and gave authorities further powers to censor independent journalism and restrict the right to information.

“Print media and private television channels are mostly owned by companies with close government links, which is reflected in the content of their news coverage. Independent media in Turkey operate mainly via online platforms, with authorities regularly ordering removal of critical content and prosecuting journalists, most severely under Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law,” it said.

At time of writing, at least 65 journalists and media workers were in pretrial detention or serving prison sentences for terrorism offenses because of their journalistic work or association with media, the report said.

The report also stated that the state-owned broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) has regularly imposed arbitrary fines and temporary suspensions of broadcasting on the few television channels critical of the government.

“Thousands of people every year already face arrest and prosecution for their social media posts, typically charged with defamation, insulting the president, fomenting hatred, or spreading terrorist propaganda,” it said.

Provincial authorities regularly ban protests and assemblies of constituencies critical of the government, the report also said.

Evaluating the situation on Women’s rights in Turkey after the country’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, the report cited international organizations’ concerns that the withdrawal “further weakened protections for women” and “increased women’s risk of violence”.

As in last years report, the HRW again drew close attention to human rights defender Osman Kavala case who after years of pre-trial detention, in April has sentenced to life imprisonment by a Turkish court on charges of attempting to overthrow the government via 2013 Gezi Park protests.

“The case centered on the baseless charge that Kavala organized the lawful and overwhelmingly peaceful 2013 Istanbul Gezi Park protests that spread across Turkey,” it said.

According to the HRW, Kavala case has demonstrated the “high level of political control over Turkey’s courts”, as President Erdogan has made repeated public speeches against Kavala throughout the trial, it said.

The Turkish authorities throughout the year have continued to use terrorism and defamation charges to “harass” rights defenders the report said, at this point citing a court case against Turkish Medical Association’s chair Sebnem Korur Fincanci who was detained in October over her remarks on Turkey’s alleged chemical warfare in Northern Iraq.

“With the ruling coalition persisting in its campaign of criminalizing the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which has 56 seats in parliament, scores of former HDP members of parliament and mayors are held as remand prisoners or are serving sentences after being convicted of terrorism offenses because of their legitimate non-violent political activities, speeches, and social media postings,” the report said.

The HRW said among them are jailed former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag who are behind bars since 2016, despite a 2020 ECHR decision calling Demirtas’ immediate release. A closure case against the HDP was also pending before the Constitutional Court, it said.

The Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights worldwide.

A full version of the 2023 report can be found here.