Turkey: mass arbitrary arrests for opinions expressed on military intervention in Syria must stop

The ICJ has condemned the arbitrary arrest of at least 186 individuals – 24 of whom are still detained solely for their opinions publicly expressed against the Turkish intervention in northern Syria. The ICJ calls for their immediate and unconditional release and for all charges against them to be dropped.

At least 186 individuals had been arrested by Turkish authorities by 16 October after publicly criticizing Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria.

They are accused of “provoking the public to hatred and animosity”, “carrying out propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “openly degrading the State of the Republic of Turkey” as prohibited by Articles 216, 220, 301 and 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 7/2 of Prevention of Terrorism Law. Further such arrests are reportedly continuing.

Moreover, an investigation was launched against Istanbul MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), due to his social media messages and statements. HDP co-chairs and MPs were also investigated over “terrorism links” for their statements on the Peace Spring Operation.

“The Turkish Penal Code and Prevention of Terrorism Law in particular with their overly broad definition of terrorism, place excessively restrictive limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression protected under Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution and give law-enforcement bodies sweeping powers to proceed to arbitrary arrests,” said Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.

The ICJ is concerned that these arrests have been undertaken in contravention of the right to freedom of expression under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), treaties to which Turkey is party.

In particular, these restrictions do not appear to be necessary in a democratic society and proportionate, as required by international law.

Detention ordered in breach of these rights is also inherently arbitrary and therefore not in line with Turkey’s obligations to respect the right to liberty under Article 9 ICCPR and Article 5 ECHR.

“These prosecutions violate the Turkish Constitution and international law and should be immediately dropped”, said Massimo Frigo.

“As a priority identified in its Judicial Reform Strategy, Turkey must also quickly abrogate these criminal provisions that cause undue and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression,” he added.

The ICJ recalled that the Venice Commission, in its 2016 report, concluded that the provisions of the Turkish Penal Code under which they are charged “provide for excessive sanctions and have been applied too widely, penalizing conduct protected” under international human rights law.

Similar issues were identified last July by Turkey’s Constitutional Court regarding prosecution for terrorism propaganda, of signatories of a petition calling for peace (the “Academics for Peace” petition) in the southeastern part of the country.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the criminal proceedings violated the right to freedom of expression safeguarded by Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution.


Róisín Pillay, Director, ICJ Europe Programme, t +32 476 974263; e roisin.pillay(a)icj.org