On 18 February 2020, Soliarity with OTHERS participated in a meeting organised by the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights to discuss the human rights situation in Turkey, with a particular focus on the situation of academia, lawyers, artists and journalists.
In addition to the members of the Subcommittee, the meeting was attended by prominent civil society representatives, international observers and representatives of the music group Yorum, whose members have been imprisoned in Turkey on political grounds.
During the meeting, academic Nevzat Uslu from the now shut down Sifa University made a presentation where he summarised the crackdown on academic freedoms in Turkey in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016, noting the shutdown of 15 private universities, the summary dismissal of more than 5,000 academics from state universities and the criminal prosecution of “Academics for Peace,” a group of scholars who faced terrorism-related trials after they signed a petition calling for an end to the armed clashes in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast and condemning the Turkish security forces’ disproportionate measures affecting the lives of civilians living in the conflict zone.
Ihsan Cibelik from the “Grup Yorum” music band said he was held behind bars in Turkey for more than 10 years on account of the group’s musical activities. Cibelik pointed out that the pressures on civil society and freedoms existed before the failed 2016 coup too, citing pressures on the band. He also mentioned the hunger strike in prisons since May 2019, especially by İbrahim Gökçek who has been striking for more than eight months. Cibelik said he is unsure that Gökçek will survive until the next hearing, calling the Subcommittee members to speak out loud about his situation.
Belgian lawyer Sbylle Gioe, who is observing the trial of lawyers in Turkey, highlighted the systematic prosecution of lawyers in the country, which undermines the right to a free trial. Gioe pointed out that lawyers regularly face terrorism-related charges, sometimes solely due to the identity of their clients. Gioe also stressed the non-independence of the Turkish judiciary, reminding the mass disbarment of judges and prosecutors, and its devastating consequences on the remaining members of the justice system.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu mentioned issues related to the media freedom, underlining a “systemic crisis” since 2016. He said almost all the traditional media outlets are under government control, while a few that are not become the target of government censorship in the form of judicial decisions which manipulate anti-terror laws on a daily basis, advertisement bans, online content blocking, and selective accreditation for press cards.
The European deputies also made their comments on the subject.
The Subcommittee’s Chair, MEP Marie Arena, said that Turkey’s EU process should be used as a leverage to support human rights in the country, as opposed to being abandoned completely, which has been suggested by some members of the Parliament. She pointed out that there are many pro-EU people in Turkey’s prisons and they expect the EU to take action.
The Parliament’s Turkey Rapporteur, MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor said extreme centralization of power and secularism are two most basic problems in Turkey. He said that accusations related to the July 2016 coup attempt are being generalized to every situation and to every subject, impacting everyone. He said that the prosecutions are not limited to the attempted coup and that the Turkish government tries to silence all dissent through terrorism-related criminalization of critical speech.