Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has released its trial observations from the first substantive proceedings against journalists in Turkey in June 2017. The trial observation report raises serious concern over violations of international law and fair trial rights in Turkey.
BHRC trial observer Pete Weatherby QC attended the first three days of the proceedings against seven journalists in the case of Altan and Others in June 2017. The charges included offences against seventeen journalists and other media workers stemming from the failed coup in 2016. Six of the journalists have been held in detention since their arrest last year, and ten of the journalists have yet to be apprehended. Only one defendant has been granted bail during the course of these proceedings.
The report takes issue with the continued state of emergency in Turkey, the lack of independence of the judiciary and violations of various fair trial rights including the right to legal assistance without undue delay, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare one’s defense, the right to specificity of charges and the right to an open trial. The nature of the accusations and the limited evidence provided against the defendants, as well as the sheer number of detained journalists since the failed coup, calls into question the validity and sincerity of the accusations and suggests a disregard for freedom of expression in Turkey.
Based on BHRC observations, the report said that the Altan and Others prosecutions raise serious concerns about fair trial rights and the rule of law in Turkey. Such concerns include the role of the judiciary, its independence and relationship with the prosecution, a lack of sufficient access to defence lawyers during pre-trial detention, insufficient pre-trial disclosure and a lack of sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case to warrant continued detention and prosecution. The proceedings had the appearance of a ‘show trial’.
The report has also underlined that “Although Turkey is a sophisticated, modern democracy that signed and acceded to the ECHR and ICCPR many years ago, the response to the coup – the mass detentions and trials, the huge number of dismissals, the continuance of the state of emergency, changes to the constitution to vastly increase executive power, and the suppression of opposition – has done precisely that which the government charges the alleged plotters: diminished the rule of law and substantially undermined the democratic institutions.”
BHRC urges the Turkish government and the judiciary to honour constitutional and international commitments to the rule of law and fundamental rights and protections, to re-evaluate whether the state of emergency remains necessary; to introduce measures to reinstate the independence of the judiciary and prosecution; to release all those detained in the aftermath of the coup and discontinue charges unless there is clear and substantial evidence of actual criminality whereupon bail provisions should be properly implemented; to make a public commitment to ensure that freedom of expression is robustly protected and that journalists will be safeguarded from arrest and prosecution for investigating, reporting and commenting on issues of the day.
The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales, working to protect the rights of advocates, judges and human rights defenders around the world. The BHRC is concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to human rights and the right to a fair trial. It is independent of the Bar Council.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 283 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of August 18, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 258 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled.