European watchdog urges Turkey to end free speech restrictions

Turkish man holds placard reading "Press freedom is our country's freedom"

STRASBOURG - The Council of Europe on Wednesday urged Turkey to "change course" and respect the right to free expression, as it criticised a string of sweeping measures introduced by Ankara after a failed coup.
"The space for democratic debate in Turkey has shrunk alarmingly following increased judicial harassment of large strata of society, including journalists, members of parliament, academics and ordinary citizens," the watchdog said in a statement.
Since rogue soldiers launched a coup bid last July, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government imposed a state of emergency -- which the Council of Europe urged Ankara to revoke.
More than 100,000 people have been fired or suspended since the coup bid, and another 41,000 people have been fired. Many are teachers, police, magistrates or journalists.
According to the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks, who visited Turkey twice last year, 151 journalists have been jailed, while 158 media outlets have been shut down.
The authorities have justified their crackdown by saying they are seeking to weed out people linked to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whom the government blames for orchestrating the coup.
Turkey has also suffered a string of attacks in recent months, including a deadly shooting rampage in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's night.
But the Council of Europe said that however grave Turkey's difficulties were, there was no justification for undue restrictions on media freedom.
It said its use of allegations such as "terrorist propaganda" had put Turkey on a "very dangerous path.
"Neither the attempted coup, nor other terrorist threats faced by Turkey can justify measures that infringe media freedom and disavow the rule of law to such an extent.
"The commissioner urges the Turkish political leaders in the strongest possible terms to change course and to display the responsibility and tolerance expected in a democratic society," it said.