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MLSA publishes its 2021 Annual Report: A Year of Fear and Courage

Looking back at yet another year of fighting to promote freedoms of expression, the press, and the right to information in Turkey, MLSA publishes its Annual Report 2021. In the report, we provide detailed insights into our work, starting from legal activities through which we have provided legal protection to a total of 104 clients, over Turkey’s most extensive trial monitoring program in which we have monitored 308 hearings in 165 different trials, up to a series of events, including several rights-focused panels and professional trainings for lawyers and journalists.

Read the full report here.

In the report, our Co-Directors Barış Altıntaş and Veysel Ok also share their views on the past year:

2021 was a dark year, starting out with new concerns – and new fears – for Turkey’s journalists and civil society; maybe even fear. The year showed the first real impact of the anti-civil society legislation adopted by the government just when the previous year was coming to a close, with many nonprofit organizations being targeted with audits, seemingly financial on the outside but turning out to be very much political in nature, targeting first and foremost LGBTI+, freedom of speech and Kurdish organizations.

The year also saw further crack down on journalism: a directive that was adopted in late April practically banned journalists from shooting images or any form of footage of police and security forces during public events such as protests and demonstrations. The directive, which was appealed by MLSA, was suspended in December 2021 with a stay of execution, but it had already emboldened security officers. We expect that the increased police brutality against journalists reporting during public events witnessed in 2021 will continue in the years to come. Other than the state, more attacks from civilians instigated by authorities were observed this year, especially during the heroic coverage of the 2021 Forest Fires by independent journalists.

When they were not following the news, journalists continued to appear before courts for their reports. In 2021, 34 journalists were convicted in 22 separate trials, which amounted to a total of 98 years 3 months and 43 days in prison.

Other parts of civil life were constantly under attack. The year started with the appointment of a government affiliated rector to head the Boğaziçi University, starting the country’s longest lasting student protests, resulting in the dismissal, trial and even imprisonment of dozens of students. In mid-March, Turkey’s presidency announced to take the country of the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence, disregarding harsh criticism even from its own supporters, in a country where on average 250 women are killed per year by husbands, intimate partners or male family members, and almost as many die in suspicious circumstances.

2021 has also been a year of courage and resilience. Journalists continued to report fearlessly, uncovering stories that have significant impact on public good. Despite the continued imprisonment of philanthropist and civil society supporter Osman Kavala, civil society organizations – including MLSA – continued to expand their networks, reach out to their target groups and support one another through the worst rights violations. As MLSA, we continued defending journalists in courts, taking autocratic government decrees to administrative courts, meticulously and systematically reporting on journalism trials, bringing early career journalists together with seasoned veterans of the profession and supporting human rights lawyers through training, professional support and advocacy.

The continued determination and courage that defined 2021 will be a strong agent of change in 2022. Feeling the strong presence of our fellow civil society organizations, partners, supporters, friends, allies, strong networks of journalists and lawyers not just in Turkey but across the world is giving us a lot of confidence for that change to come.

For we know, we are not alone.