Turkey's #IzmirTwitterCase: a ludicrous and baseless attack on free speech

I was in court on Monday to hear first-hand the ludicrous decision to continue the trial of 29 young women and men in what has been coined the ‘Twitter trial’.

The prosecution – based solely on tweets about the Gezi Park protests last summer – is an attack on the right to share information and opinions via social media. A trial that should have never have been started is now set to continue into a third hearing, scheduled for 14 July.

#izmirtwittercase recalls "nonsense" cases of the past that had mostly been confined to the rubbish bin of history #dropthecharges

— Andrew Gardner (@andrewegardner) April 21, 2014

The fact this travesty continues says a lot about the sorry state of freedom of expression in Turkey, and the authorities’ extreme intolerance of dissenting opinions. Very few positives came out of the hearing. The court decided that the Prime Minister, who is listed as a “victim” in the case, has the right to intervene as an injured party. However, it decided that he should not be called on to provide a statement to the court.

Defence lawyers explain their demands in the hearing inc "PM should come to the court and explain why he is a victim" pic.twitter.com/xuLsRyGOVe

— Andrew Gardner (@andrewegardner) April 21, 2014

In contrast, all but one of the defendants have now provided statements to the court. The court issued an arrest warrant for the remaining person.

One defendant said in court: “I was only sharing information about police violence. My being here in court facing charges is surprising and saddening.”

The progress of this overtly political trial – in which the Prime Minister is a party – is increasingly concerning. It comes at a time when the government has made unprecedented attempts to control the judiciary and attacked the use of social media.

The 14 day closure of Twitter in Turkey from 20 March to 3 April has been followed by almost daily government attacks and threats of future closures. YouTube is still blocked, despite a court order for the ban to be lifted.

Most recently, the Prime Minister made an individual application to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, claiming that his rights had been violated on Twitter and claiming 50,000 Lira (about 17,000 euros) compensation.

As the prosecution continues, so does our call to activists and supporters worldwide: Please carry on defending people’s right to express their views peacefully, free from government harassment and prosecution.

Click on the links below to send Turkey’s Prime Minister a tweet (or compose your own):

.@RT_Erdogan Why not attend the #IzmirTwitterCase and explain what you have been a ‘victim’ of exactly? #dropthecharges

.@RT_Erdogan Who’s the victim – you? Or 29 people who should not be prosecuted for a few peaceful tweets? #IzmirTwitterCase #dropthecharges

Andrew Gardner is our Turkey researcher. Follow him on Twitter @andrewegardner

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