TÜKENMEZ HABER- Journalists imprisoned for their journalistic activities or social media posts are now facing a threat regarding the right to live due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
86 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey according to the Journalists’ Union of Turkey.
Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Co-Director and lawyer Veysel Ok represents many imprisoned journalists in Turkey as their lawyer.
Speaking to Tükenmez Haber, Veysel Ok drew attention to physical conditions in prisons which are under the threat of COVID-19 and said “We have to think about the imprisoned people’s situation while people outside cannot benefit from their right to health and get tested whether they have COVID-19. The imprisoned people cannot access to health system or get tested at all. The number of ventilators in Turkey is limited. There are no ventilators, hygiene standards, soaps, hand sanitizers in prisons. There is not enough space for social distancing either. Therefore, the government should stop discrimination and holding a grudge and must do what has to be done. Otherwise, the government will be held responsible for consequences.”
Stating that conditions in prisons in Turkey do not meet hygiene standards in general, Ok adds that “The conditions are getting more challenging due to COVID-19 pandemic”.
‘Applications made for imprisoned journalists rejected’
Veysel Ok stated that MLSA made applications for imprisoned journalists to be released due to COVID-19 outbreak and said “We made applications for imprisoned journalists. Requests of release were made for Ziya Ataman, Nedim Türfent, Aziz Oruç, Rawin Sterk. COVID-19 outbreak was the main reason in our applications which were all rejected.”
Lawyer Ok stated that MLSA applied to the Constitutional Court after the requests of release were rejected. He said “We applied to the Constitutional Court because Ziya Ataman has chronic disease. We underlined that he is at high risk due to his medical condition and cannot remain in prison during this time. We will make an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) if we receive a negative outcome from this. From the first degree judge who rejects the application to the members of the Constitutional Court and the government, everyone will share the responsibility of the consequences if we have a negative outcome regarding the application for Ziya Ataman.”
‘Strongly unfair and remorseless’
About the draft law reducing sentences for convicts due to their organised crimes but excluding the political prisoners and convicts, Veysel Ok says “I remain distant from amnesty concept and this is surely arguable. When the states seek agreement after events regarding communities, they grant ‘general amnesty’. When such amnesty is granted, the states do not make exceptions. General amnesty actually is granted to release political prisoners.” and also adds “While journalists imprisoned for their journalistic activities and human rights defenders imprisoned for their speeches and social media posts are not released, granting amnesty for offences such as robbery or fraud is strongly unfair and remorseless.”
‘ECtHR considers violence when defining terrorism while Turkey does not’
While Ok states the reason why journalists, human rights defenders, politicians in prisons in Turkey fall within ‘terror crimes’ category is related to not having a specific and legal definition of ‘terror’ in Turkey, he also says that “All contradictions and arguments result from this. There is no specific definition of ‘terror’ in Turkey, and the expression of ‘terror criminals’ is used. I do not understand what they mean with that. This could be ‘Opposition to Anti-Terror Law’, committing crimes stated in Turkish Criminal Code, crimes committed against the state, espionage charges… Therefore ‘terror criminals’ is an ambiguous definition. We take the law set by the ECtHR and case-laws into consideration. ECtHR also underlines the ‘violence’ as a criterion. Turkey does the opposite and not pay attention whether violence is included. People criticizing the government face terrorism charges. Turkey does not act in line with the law to which it is liable and cannot make a clear definition of ‘terror’.”
Reminding that journalists, politicians, human rights defenders facing ‘terrorism crimes’ in Turkey have all been acquitted by the ECtHR, Veysel Ok further states that “From staff of Cumhuriyet newspaper to Mehmet Altan, Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, all have been acquitted. The ECtHR stated that they all exercised their right to freedom of expression. International courts acquit the people Turkey condemns as terrorists and rule ‘they are not terrorists, they exercised their right to freedom of expression’.”
‘While disregarding ECtHR decisions, Turkey does not face sanctions because of political interests’
When asked about Turkey’s chances of facing sanctions for not implementing the ECtHR decisions, Veysel Ok replies “Technically, sanctions can be imposed. Turkey must implement the ECtHR’s decision as per Article 90 of Turkey’s Constitution and the ECtHR protocols. If not, The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has the right to impose sanction against Turkey. However, this has never happened. Because the system in Europe has problems as well. Unfortunately, Turkey does not face sanctions because of political interests.”
‘Some judges see the ECtHR case-laws as their opponents’
Veysel Ok draws attention to the fact that some judges and prosecutors in Turkey do not see the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or ECtHR case-laws as ‘law’ but as an ‘opponent field’.
He says “I referred to the ECHR and case-laws when defending Deniz Yücel during his interrogation. The prosecutor told me ‘Talk about law, Mr. Ok’. I told him ‘I am not talking about veterinary’. Therefore some judges do not see the ECHR and the ECtHR case-laws as ‘law’. They see them as an opponent field. They ignore and belittle ECtHR case-laws. Unfortunately, I witnessed similar cases during the hearings of Ahmet Altan, Deniz Yücel and many other journalists. Here is a situation where universally accepted law is excluded and regarded as an enemy.”
‘For political prisoners, draft law means facing death penalty’
Lawyer Ok reminded about the trustees being appointed to Batman Municipality and other municipalities during COVID-19 pandemic and commented on excluding political prisoners and convicts from the draft law by stating “For political prisoners, unfortunately this means facing death penalty. This might be shocking but that’s the case”.
‘Seeing a doctor in prisons takes weeks in general’
Talking about ‘stay at home’ warnings, Veysel Ok said “There is an ongoing campaign that says ‘stay at home’. People are requested to follow hygiene standards but there are nearly 300 thousands of people in prisons. Prisons are overcrowded. Accessing to hygiene products is not possible. Seeing a doctor takes weeks in general, and this is causing more risk due to COVID-19 outbreak. Because prisons in Turkey do not meet hygiene standards in general. The conditions have become more challenging due to COVID-19”.
‘150 thousands of prisoners can be released without a draft law’
Ok said “At least 150 thousands of prisoners should be released directly before the convicts. There is no need of draft law for this. Judges can use their authority to release prisoners.”
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