Turkey’s human rights record under fire

Diplomats slam intimidation of journalists and police crackdowns on demonstrators during universal periodic review.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey has insisted it has made many many strides in human rights and freedom of expression. [Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Turkey’s human rights record has come under criticism at the UN, with diplomats condemning intimidation of journalists and police crackdowns on demonstrators. 

“We are concerned about growing restrictions on freedom of expression, including censorship of new media and the Internet, and provisions of Turkish law that unduly limit peaceful assembly,” US representative Keith Harper told the UN Human Rights council on Tuesday. 

Harper’s comments came during the Universal Periodic Review of Turkey’s rights record – a process that all 193 UN member states must undergo every four years. 

Turkey has countered the criticism, insisting it has made progress in promoting human rights and freedom of expression that are an “indispensable” part of the country’s democratic order.

“The protection and promotion of human rights is one of our priority political objectives,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Buelent Arinc told the council in Geneva.

While acknowledging there were some journalists in Turkish prisons, Arinc insisted that their detention was “not related to their journalistic activities”.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has fired thousands of police along with a number of judges while pushing through legislation that tightens state control over the internet, raising questions inside the country and abroad as to the state of the nation’s democracy.

Egypt, meanwhile, was particularly harsh in its criticism, with its representative Amr Ramadan lamenting the “severe deterioration in the human rights situation in Turkey,” and slamming Ankara for deadly crackdowns on demonstrators and the jailing journalists.

“We would have wished to have seen such criticism coming from parties who adhere to the same universal values as we do,” Arinc hit back at Egypt, which itself has jailed numerous journalists, including three Al Jazeera staff members.

Many Egyptian protesters have also been killed in clashes with security forces.

In addition to criticism on its crackdown on journalists, Ankara was also slammed for discriminating against minorities. 

Armenia’s representative Vahram Kazholyan said the government should return “the confiscated properties of Armenians and other religious minorities, such as places of worship, including monasteries, church properties and religious cultural sites”.

Kazholyan also called on Ankara to “fully implement the international obligations emanating from the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”. 

Armenians say the Ottoman state conducted genocide against them during World War I, leaving an estimated 1.5 million people dead. 

Modern day Turkey has resisted terming the mass killings as an act of genocide.