Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by a new Turkish decree under which detainees accused of links to terrorism or to the July 2016 coup attempt will have to wear a uniform of a specific colour for court appearances. This arbitrary measure will violate the right of dozens of detained Turkish journalists to be presumed innocent.
In addition to being jailed on extremely grave charges, these journalists will now be stigmatized by the colour-coded attire they must wear when being tried.
Under Decree No. 696, published in the official gazette on 24 December, detained defendants charged with involvement in the 2016 coup attempt will have to wear a brown uniform in court, while those charged under the terrorism law will have to wear a grey one.
These two categories of charges, which are defined in an extremely vague and broad manner, have been systematically brought against the victims of the 18-month-old purge in Turkey, who have included many journalists. According to initial estimates, this decree could affect more than 58,000 detainees.
More than 100 journalists are currently detained in Turkey, of whom at least 40 were arrested in connection with their journalistic activities, according to RSF’s provisional tally. Despite the lack of hard evidence, almost all are alleged to have been members of a terrorist group or involved in the coup attempt. Most are still detained provisionally pending the outcome of their trials.
“The sole aim of this measure is to humiliate, intimidate and stigmatize the detainees concerned,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “In violation of the right to be presumed innocent, imprisoned journalists will be identified with the perpetrators of the bloody coup attempt of 15 July 2016. We call for the immediate repeal of this decree, which constitutes yet another step in the Turkish judicial system’s transformation into an instrument of political revenge.”
The new measures are expected to take force in a month’s time, as soon as the justice ministry has drafted the implementation regulations. All detainees except pregnant women and minors will have to wear a uniform for their court appearances.
Many prisoners may refuse to wear the uniform with as yet unknown consequences that could include being barred from appearing in court. The obligation to wear a uniform led to waves of hunger strikes in the 1980s in which several political prisoners died.
The reintroduction of uniforms had been mooted for several months. After a much-reported court appearance by a former soldier in a T-shirt bearing the word “Hero” in July, President Erdoğan promised that those charged with “crimes against the state” would soon be made to appear in court in uniforms like those worn by Guantánamo detainees.
Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.