NEW YORK — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the Turkish government for ordering the arrest of at least 38 activists on Wednesday for criticizing the results of the country’s recent referendum. These arrests included Ali Ergin Demirhan, the editor-in-chief of the Turkish website sendika.org as well as human rights activist Abdurrahman Atalay. Both were charged with “inciting hatred” for questioning the legitimacy of the referendum. Demirhan’s office was raided and his computer and phone were confiscated. The constitutional referendum proposed and narrowly won by Turkish president Recep Erdogan last Sunday was considered unfree and unfair by observers from the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe.
“Let us be clear. Long before this referendum, Turkey’s constitution has been a meaningless piece of paper in Erdogan’s dictatorial eyes. The referendum has expanded Erdogan’s powers by eliminating the office of the prime minister and eliminating some cosmetic parliamentary checks, but let’s remember that the president took control of all key branches of government long ago. The unfree and unfair referendum was merely a rubber stamp on Erdogan’s already-established dictatorial rule,” stated HRF president Thor Halvorssen.
The democratic opposition, including the Republican People’s Party (CHP), called for a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes, after Turkey’s electoral commission decided to count ballots that were not marked with an official stamp. Stefan Schennach, a member of the EU delegation of 20 impartial observers sent to monitor the referendum’s compliance with European standards, declared that the referendum was “unfair and unfree.” Andrej Hunko, who was an observer on behalf of the Council of Europe, also deemed that the referendum “was not a free or fair election.” Alev Korun, another observer from the Council of Europe, stated that 2.5 million votes were potentially manipulated. The OSCE and Council of Europe issued a report stating that the referendum “took place on an uneven playing field and the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities.”
Media coverage inside Turkey overwhelmingly favored Erdogan and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP). This bias resulted from the regime’s widespread persecution of critical journalists. Since the attempted coup in July 2016, Erdogan has led a massive purge of dissenting voices in Turkey. His government has arbitrarily arrested 47,155 dissenters and critics, and in 2016, it shut down 179 media outlets, and had 2,708 journalists fired from their jobs. One victim of these purges, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, was specifically persecuted for his work as a human rights lawyer and journalist. Turkish prosecutors seek a triple aggravated life sentence plus 15 years in prison for Cengiz, in a case that targets 30 columnists and employees from the newspaper Zaman. The Turkish government claims that these employees are connected with the alleged organizer of the failed coup, the Gülen movement, which Erdogan considers a “terrorist organization.” Cengiz was not a journalist with Zaman; his only connection to the paper was that he was serving as the newspaper’s lawyer at the time.
The purges in Turkey have not been limited to the media. In July 2016 alone, the government removed 2,745 judges in Turkey without due process of law. The purge both in the aftermath of the coup and in the lead up to the referendum has led to the closure of 1,200 schools, 50 hospitals and 15 universities; the dismissal of 8,000 army officers, 8,000 police officers, 5,000 academics, and 4,000 judges and prosecutors; and the firing and suspension of 130,000 people from the public and private sector, many of whom have been accused of being affiliated with the Gülen Movement.
“The arrests this past Wednesday and Thursday are a sign that the purges against any and all critics will continue as Erdogan takes on more power after the referendum. Erdogan will use the referendum as another excuse to continue to bulldoze any form of opposition to his rule,” stated Halvorssen.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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Feridun H. Sinirlioğlu, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the UN
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Emma Clua Vandellos, Deputy Head of Civil Society, Fundamental Rights, Judiciary and Home Affairs Section, Delegation of the EU to Turkey
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Mustafa Yeneroglu, Committee Chair, Committee on Human Rights Inquiry in the Grand National Assembly in Turkey
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