Turkey: Recent reports paint grim picture for artistic freedom

Over the last two years, Turkey has remained in the top five of worst countries that violate artistic freedom according to Freemuse’s annual statistics. Though Turkey agreed to hundreds of recommendations in 2015 made by the United Nations Human Rights Councils, it is difficult to see where and how authorities have changed the landscape of the universal human right of artistic freedom for artists, audiences, event organisers and those who publish or distribute works.

Two recent reports on publishers and film festivals show the extent of pressure and artistic freedom violations that artists, publishers and organisers in these two sectors have to endure in an increasingly difficult environment.

Pressure on publishers, writers, book stores and fairs
Between June 2015 and June 2016, political polarization and gridlock have negatively affected the publishing field in Turkey, according to the Turkish Publishers Association latest annual report: ‘2016 Freedom to Publish Report & Freedom of Thought and Expression Awards’.

The organisation notes that there has been an increase in the number of trials and convictions against publications as political figures, empowered by a politicized judiciary, perceive any criticism to be “defamation” and thus initiate legal proceedings. The report covers such lawsuits against publishers, writers and translators, as well as instances of books and periodicals being pulled off shelves and from fairs, censored or used as criminal evidence, and the growing pressure put on the press and internet.

The report also notes that due to this current situation, self-censorship is spreading and working on “automatic”.

» Read the full 2016 Turkish Publishers Association report here
Turkish Publishers Association, established in 1985, is a national non-governmental organisation representing the aspects of book and journal publishing in Turkey, and works toward ensuring the freedom of thought, expression and publishing in Turkey.

Censorship targets film festivals
A recent report published by non-profit Siyah Bant, in light of increased pressure and censorship on film festivals in Turkey, focuses on the restrictions on freedom of expression faced at festivals and lays out strategies that some festivals have used to respond to the pressure of censoring films scheduled to be shown.

The aim of the ‘Turkey’s Film Festivals and Artistic Freedom of Expression’ report is to develop a foundation for film festivals and organisers to use such strategies to resist censorship and pressure.

» For a more detailed account in English, read Index on Censorship’s article here

» Read the full Siyah Bant report in Turkish here
Siyah Bant, founded in 2011, is a platform that researches and documents cases of censorship in the arts across Turkey.

Artistic freedom taking a beating
In June 2014, Freemuse, Siyah Bant and the Initiative for Freedom of Expression submitted the Universal Periodic Review of Turkey to the United Nations, focusing on freedom of expression and guarantees Turkey’s own constitution has in place on this right.

The report gave eight specific recommendations to Turkish authorities, including to secure that anti-terror legislation is not applied against artistic and creative works that clearly have no connection with nor propagate violence, and to end defamation suits.

A year later in June 2015, Turkey accepted 215 of the 278 recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council, but rejected the key recommendations to amend or abolish laws which are used to unfairly limit the right to freedom of expression, including arts freedom.

Turkey continues to this day to target artists and their works and retains its position in the top five of worst violating countries in 2014, with nine violations on artistic freedom, and 2015, with 15 violations. So far, in 2016, Freemuse has already documented 18 cases of violations on artistic freedom in Turkey.

» Read the 2014 Universal Periodic Review for Turkey here

Photo: Turkish parliament (Wikipedia)

More from Freemuse

» 12 May 2016: Turkey: Art exhibitions cancelled, a troubling trend

» 20 April 2016: Turkey: Baby donkeys, insults and presidents

» 22 February 2016: Art Under Threat: Attacks on artistic freedom in 2015

» 12 November 2015: Turkey: EU and UN address Turkey’s troublesome arts freedom record

» 28 October 2015: Turkey: Tensions between film festivals and government take toll

» 9 July 2015: Turkey: The disconnect between what is said and what is done

» 14 June 2014: Turkey abuse laws to punish artists challenging authorities

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