As cartoonist Musa Kart and his colleagues near the end of their fourth month in an Istanbul prison without indictment on charges of lending support to terrorism, we offer an update on where things stand pertaining to the case.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks reported on the overall situation in Turkey last week, saying “Democratic debate in Turkey has shrunk alarmingly following increased judicial harassment of large strata of society, including journalists, members of parliament, academics and ordinary citizens, and government action which has reduced pluralism and led to self-censorship.” Turkey’s response to the report, restating their dedication to human rights but maintaining that last summer’s attempted coup warrants the use of emergency security measures, can be read here.
The report follows a visit to Turkey by the Venice Commission, the constitutional consultative body of the Council of Europe, during which Musa Kart’s case was raised as cause for concern in a wider discussion about dire conditions for the press. The Commission Deputy Chairman Herdis Kjerulf Thorgeirsdottir, along with a delegation, had meetings with the representatives of various political parties at Turkey’s parliament. Opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Group Deputy Chairman Erkan Akçay made mention of Musa Kart as exemplary case and the pro-Kurdish HDP MP Idris Baluken listed over one hundred and fifty journalists who are currently behind bars.
Readers may recall that the United Nation’s special rapporteur David Kaye’s findings after a visit to Turkey in November around the time of Musa Kart’s arrest, saying: “Across the board, the Government is imposing draconian measures that limit freedom of expression […] the measures are not only drastic and disproportionate, but they lack any form of transparency.”
The wives and children of the remanded Cumhuriyet journalists met recently with the leader of the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who appealed to prosecutors, saying “Do not be somebody’s slave or vassal; do not be the rulership’s cudgel.” Cumhuriyet notes that the Constitutional Court has not examined complaints made on behalf of those in remand and if it does not examine and rule on those shortly an appeal will be possible to the European Court of Human Rights.
Musa Kart’s representatives have told us that he continues to be held under the kind of restricted circumstances normally reserved for those convicted of a crime. While he and his journalist colleagues have access to paper and pen, nothing is permitted to leave and nor may they receive letters. They may see their lawyers once a week for one hour and up to three of their family members, also for one hour a week. Inmates and visitors are separated by glass during family visits or accompanied by a prison officer doing lawyer visits and at all times any discussion is audio-recorded. Inmates are permitted a phone call once in fifteen days for a duration no longer than ten minutes. They cohabit in groups of three and aren’t allowed to see their peers. They are given access to a 3×5 metre yard with very high walls to get air and exercise. They do have a television and get the daily newspapers but there are limitations on books. Deputies from the CHP visit them often, as is their right, and share their messages with the public.
CRNI are dismayed at the length of time the Turkish state are taking to present their case on what they claim to be urgent matters of national security. Musa Kart is guilty of no such crime in our view, but while his release is not forthcoming the Turkish government and court must not ignore the various appeals and petitions being made in his defence.