Media and Law Studies (MLSA) and US-based partners Freedom House were in Strasbourg on 20 – 21 February, where they held a series of meetings with representatives of bodies of the Council of Europe to exchange views on the recent developments in Turkey.
MLSA Co-Director Barış Altıntaş and Freedom House’s Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia programs, came together with Thomas Markert, Director and Secretary of the Venice Commission. MLSA and Freedom House noted that opinions on the Venice Commission, such as its comprehensive report on the Criminal Judgeships of Peace, have been important contributions and used extensively by Turkey based lawyers at various courts, nationally and internationally.
The two organizations also met with Christophe Poirel, Director of the Human Rights Directorate; CoE Spokesperson Daniel Höltgen; Artemiza Tatiana Chisca, Head of Information and Media Department; Clare Ovey Vice-President of Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights; Daniel Schmidt, Head of South East Europe and Turkey Unit, Directorate of Human Rights of Council of Europe; Işık Batmaz, Legal Expert. Behrendt shared his observations from the final hearing of the Gezi trial that was held on 18 February, which resulted in acquittals of the suspects, but later re-arrest of businessperson Osman Kavala. Altıntaş shared information from similar trials where suspects had been rearrested despite being let go by courts. The ECtHR ruling on Kavala was also discussed. MLSA and FH shared concerns with general problems regarding separation of powers in Turkey and the independence of the judiciary.
MLSA and FH also came together with Hasan Bermek, who is an Advisor to Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic. The Commissioner’s recent report on Turkey and potential new risk areas for human rights defenders in Turkey — particularly for lawyers defending clients in human rights cases — were discussed.
The two organizations also met with Mary Ann Hennessey, the Head of the Division for Democratic Innovation at the Directorate General of Democracy of the Council of Europe. The meeting saw an exchange on what can be done to more productively engage Turkish civil society in advancing freedom of expression and democracy and possible partnerships with Freedom House.