Ankara, Oct 7 () - A delegation of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voiced concerns over pressure on media, recent violence on political party premises and highly disproportionate coverage of different political parties by state-owned media during their meeting in Ankara Oct. 5-6.
A seven-member cross-party delegation of PACE noted the early parliamentary election campaign is being conducted in a dramatically changed environment, compared to the June 7 elections, in a statement released after a pre-electoral visit.
The delegation expressed serious concern about the situation of the media, with “instances of repeated intimidation, pressure and physical attacks against journalists and media groups, culminating in the mobbing of the Hürriyet offices on Sept. 6 and 8 and the brutal assault of its columnist Ahmet Hakan on Oct. 1.”
The delegation said there has been a sharp rise in prosecutions launched against critical voices, on charges of “defamation against the president” and “terrorism,” as well as a number of restrictions on freedom of expression, including on the Internet and social media. “The delegation is concerned that this situation may hamper free democratic debate and freedom of expression,” said the statement.
The active role of the president in the campaign period, despite constitutional provisions requiring him to act in an unbiased manner, was also questioned, said the delegation. The delegation reiterates the call made by PACE to lower the 10 percent election threshold.
The delegation condemned “the politically-motivated violence” observed in recent weeks, including attacks made over two days on 400 offices and workplaces of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and some Justice and Development Party (AKP) premises.
A number of HDP members, including mayors, were arrested and detained in recent police operations, which raises concerns, said the statement. “The delegation calls on all political stakeholders to refrain from using, and take action against, verbal and physical violence, and to take a responsible stand in the election campaign to prevent any further escalation,” it said.
“The creation of a number of ‘special temporary security zones’ and curfews in areas predominantly oriented towards voting for the HDP raises serious concerns that this situation might spread fear among voters,” it added.
The delegation did welcome the commitment expressed by all political parties to hold a fair election.
The delegation recalled that a number of shortcomings identified during observations of the June 2015 elections remain valid, such as “the highly disproportionate coverage of different political parties in state-owned media; the lack of judicial review of the Supreme Board of Elections decisions; the lack of regulation of campaign and party funding; and the impossibility for domestic NGOs to be registered as observers.”