Turkey: release reporter Cemil Uğur, detained for free expression

A previous version of this case appeared on the PEN International website.

Turkey: Reporter Cemil Uğur among many writers unlawfully detained in a post-coup crackdown on free expression.

PEN Center USA joins PEN International in serious concern for Cemil Uğur, reporter for pro-Kurdish newspaper Evenresel, who is charged with being a member of a terror organization and making propaganda for an illegal organization. Uğur was initially detained on August 23, 2016, along with fellow Evrensel reporter Halil İbrahim Polat as the pair reported on Freedom Watch, a solidarity event for imprisoned writers, outside a prison in Mersin. After 16 days in detention, the two journalists were released on bail with an imposed travel ban. However, their lawyer reported to PEN International that both journalists suffered ill-treatment and were subjected to death threats during their detainment.

On October 6, 2016, Uğur went to a local police station to request permission to leave the province and was informed that a warrant for his arrest was pending. He was immediately taken into custody. His attorney informed PEN International that the arrest was made after a prosecuter filed an objection to his release on bail.

PEN Center USA joins PEN International in calling for Cemil Uğur’s immediate and unconditional release because he is being held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

While recognizing the right of the Turkish authorities to bring those responsible for crimes committed during the attempted coup of July 15, 2016, to justice, PEN Center USA calls on the Turkish authorities to safeguard freedom of expression and human rights, and to respect their obligations under international law during the declared state of emergency, and to release all journalists and writers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. According to PEN International’s records, as of October 13, 2016, at least 134 writers and journalists have been arrested, detained without charge, or are awaiting trial in Turkey. The full list of names can be found here.

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Cemil Uğur (born July 20,1995) is a journalist and Mersin correspondent of pro-Kurdish daily newspaper, Evrensel.

After the failed coup of July 15, 2016, a state of emergency was declared in Turkey. Since the imposition of the state of emergency, Turkey’s Council of Ministers has issued four decrees granting the Turkish authorities wide-ranging powers. A number of these affect the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and have been used to facilitate the arrest and harassment of media personnel, including:

  1. An extension of the period during which an individual may be detained without charge, from 48 hours to 30 days; the decrees also restrict access to legal counsel for detainees and extend the period before a detainee must have access to a lawyer to five days
  2. Empowering higher levels of administration to shut down any media organization
  3. Enabling the government to impose curfews; ban public meetings, gatherings, and rallies; and restrict access to private and public spaces
  4. Granting law enforcement agencies the power to stop and search people and vehicles without judicial authorization and to confiscate suspicious materials.

Over 100 media outlets have been closed, as well as at least 29 publishing houses, since the coup attempt. At least 90 journalists have been arrested, bringing the total number of media workers detained in Turkey on charges related to their exercise of the right to freedom of expression to 134, primarily on terror-related charges. These numbers exclude countless other journalists held in temporary detention. There are credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of those in police custody following the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights.

PEN believes that most, if not all, of these arrests, detentions, and closures of media and publishing outlets are arbitrary, as they are not based on clear evidence of involvement in a crime, and the use of emergency measures in these instances are not justified by the current situation. Since July, the crackdown on media reporting on Kurdish issues and the conflict in south-eastern Turkey has intensified. At least 36 journalists have been arrested on alleged terror charges entirely unrelated to the coup. All except three of these journalists are from media outlets considered pro-Kurdish. This increases concerns that Turkey is abusing the state of emergency to limit reporting on matters in the public interest, including human rights violations and abuses committed by state and non-state actors in South-East Turkey.

PEN calls on the Turkish authorities not to use the state of emergency to restrict freedom of expression, and to revoke Turkey’s derogations from international human rights instruments safeguarding this right. Turkey must ensure that investigations into those responsible for the coup are limited to those alleged to be directly involved in criminal activity, are based on evidence, and that due process is observed in line with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

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