Turkey’s use this week of emergency powers granted in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt to shutter more than 20 media outlets with no discernible relationship to the failed putsch, and calls to extend the state of emergency, again illustrate the need for safeguards to prevent arbitrary use of such power, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.
Turkish authorities reportedly ordered the closure of at least 12 television stations and 11 radio stations owned, operated or linked to Kurds or members of the Alevi religious minority – including one station that airs children’s programming – on charges that they spread “terrorist propaganda”.
The move came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he wanted Parliament to extend the state of emergency, which gives his cabinet authority to rule by decree, by at least another 90 days beyond late October, when it is set to expire.
IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said that this week’s moves “show the extent to which the state of emergency has become unmoored from the coup attempt and the increasing willingness by Turkey’s government to abuse the legitimate need to bring actual coup plotters to justice in order to consolidate power, throttle independent media and stifle dissent”.
The President reportedly wants to extend the state of emergency – which addresses both the coup attempt and the general fight against terrorism – not only to eliminate any threat still posed by adherents of a movement headed by Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who denies being behind the coup, but to crush a violent, three-decade-long insurgency by outlawed Kurdish militant groups that reignited after the government ended peace negotiations in 2015.
In comments yesterday in Ankara, he said that it was even possible that “maybe 12 months won’t be enough”, raising fears that his government could seek to indefinitely extend the state of emergency as part of a bid to silence critics and cement in place measures that Turkey’s Parliament would never approve under the normal democratic process.
Erdoğan has defended the emergency measures by pointing to a state of emergency declared in France in late 2015 and extended earlier this year following a string of deadly terrorist attacks, but Ellis rejected that comparison.
“The bloody coup attempt and the ongoing threat presented by those responsible for it may well justify some degree of emergency measures, and we remain concerned by allegations of human rights violations under the French state of emergency,” he said. “But the latter is at least subject to monitoring and criticism by France’s judiciary, Parliament, National Human Rights Institution and Ombudsman – checks and balances almost wholly absent in Turkey’s state of emergency.”
Ellis argued that the scope of France’s response has been limited in comparison to Turkey, where approximately 100,000 state employees have been purged; some 32,000 people are imprisoned, including more journalists than anywhere else in the world; some 150 media outlets have now been shuttered; and credible allegations of torture have been raised.
“We urge MPs to put a stop to these abuses and restrain the arbitrary use of emergency powers by ensuring that they are narrowly drawn and subject to independent monitoring and oversight,” he said. “To fail to do so jeopardises the very survival of Turkey’s democracy and insults the sacrifice of those who took to the streets on the night of July 15 to defend it.”