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Video Statement for the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (14 September – 2 October 2020)

Thank you Madame President and thank you to the Turkish delegation for its presentation. While the government claims that the “expression of thoughts amounting only to criticism” is not a criminal offence, its actions speak otherwise. Journalists and activists [- myself included -] have been persecuted and imprisoned for inciting terrorism or hatred, insulting the President, or for blasphemy, in cases where their only crime has been to speak critically of the government.[1] Turkey clearly has no intention of ending this practice, as seen by the passing of new legal restrictions on social media use.[2]

Freedom of assembly is also under threat, as Covid restrictions are being used to strip NGOs of their ability to meet in person,[3] and laws requiring NGOs to disclose the names of their members are putting activists’ security at risk.[4]

We urge Turkey to accept all recommendations on freedom of expression and association, by reforming its Penal Code and law on counter-terrorism, by guaranteeing a safe environment for NGOs, and by setting up an independent body to monitor all violations of these fundamental rights.

Turkey claims that “progress” has been made towards protecting the rights of women, religious minorities, and LGBTI people. To this we ask: is it “progress” when over 265 women were murdered in domestic violence cases this year, and the government still intends to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention?[5] Is it “progress” when President Erdoğan calls LGBTI people “perverts”?[6] And is it “progress” when openly identifying as non-religious invites death threats and harassment,[7] and “blasphemy” prosecutions stifle public debate on religion?[8]

We strongly urge Turkey to reconsider its definition of “progress” when it comes to protecting the rights of minorities.

I thank you.

[1] Those recently arrested and sentenced to long prison terms include: businessman Osman Kavala; opposition politicians Selahattin Demirtas, Banu Özdemir and Canan Kaftancioglu; and journalists Alptekin Dursunoğlu and Hakan Aygün, in addition to many more. [2] [3] We note that while NGOs have been prevented from holding any events until the end of October 2020, the government welcomed a crowd of 350,000 people during the opening ceremony of the Hagia Sophia Mosque. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] We also note that, in a desire to appeal to his conservative religious support base, President Erdoğan has plans to convert several historic churches, like the Hagia Sophia, into mosques. The government also decided to convert a pandemic hospital in Heybeliada Istanbul into a ‘Center for Islamic Studies.

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