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RIGHTS >Europe’s top human rights official calls on Turkey to restore free speech

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Turkish authorities must “change course” and reverse violations of media freedoms and the rule of law, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks said Feb. 15.

In a 25-page report based on his two visits to the country last year, Muižnieks said Turkey’s already worrisome levels of media freedom and freedom of expression in recent years had reached “seriously alarming” levels since the government declared a state of emergency after a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

“The authorities should urgently change course by overhauling criminal legislation and practice, re-develop judicial independence and reaffirm their commitment to protect free speech,” the report said.

The commissioner also expressed concerns over constitutional amendments that will be voted on in a referendum on April 16, saying they “foresee a significant further diminution of the autonomy of the Turkish judiciary vis-à-vis the executive and legislative branches.”

In addition, Muižnieks criticized Turkey’s broad definition of terrorism and terrorist propaganda that include statements that do not incite violence, the imprisonment of dozens of journalists, the erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the abundant use of defamation laws used to silence critics, censorship on the internet and the use of state resources to favor pro-government media.

“The commissioner urges the Turkish political leaders in the strongest possible terms to change course and start separating what is a terrorist action from criticism and dissent, and to display the responsibility and tolerance expected in a democratic society. They must redevelop the political will necessary to tackle the very long-standing systemic issues suppressing freedom of expression, including on the internet,” the report said.

Muižnieks also said the attempted takeover and the terror threats cannot justify “measures that infringe on media freedom and disavow the rule of law to such an extent.”

February/15/2017

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