MPs call on UK government to restore press freedom and human rights in Turkey

by Jane Whyatt

A senior British Conservative former Cabinet Minister, Sir Peter Bottomley, is backing a parliamentary motion that strongly criticises Turkey over the trial of 19 journalists. The court case started in Istanbul on 24th July of staff at the newspaper, “Cumhuriyet” (Republic). Sir Peter, who was a Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980s, is co-sponsoring an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons.

Sir Peter Bottomley MP Sir Peter Bottomley MP. Photo: House of Commons

It condemns the “Cumhuriyet” trial and urges the British government “to ensure that in all discussions with its Turkish counterparts the protection of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and independence of the press is raised“.Sir Peter told ECPMF that the Early Day Motion is a message from a candid friend: “In Turkey and around the world we know what is going on because of the activities of legitimate journalism. We need to stand alongside those who are suffering.“


Turkey’s friends ask that the country’s reputation as a secular, tolerant open society be restored. This includes recognising the role of journalists. They should not be persecuted nor prosecuted."

British-built fighter planes for Turkey


UK Prime Minister Teresa May made an official visit to Turkey in January 2017 when she signed a new trade deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The deal increased the value of trade between Britain and Turkey up to $20 billion or 16 billion Pounds Sterling. It includes 100 million pounds for the UK’s BAE Systems factories to build fighter planes for the Turkish air force. Quoted on BBC news, Mrs May reminded President Erdoğan when they met that he had promised to uphold democratic values: "I am proud that the UK stood with you on July 15th last year in defence of your democracy. Now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do," she said.(Editor’s note: July 15th 2016 was the date of the alleged failed military coup).

'Consider suspending Turkey from NATO'

Tom Brake MP Tom Brake MP is Shadow Leader of the House for the Lib Dems

The parliamentary Motion condemning Turkey’s human rights record is also sponsored by Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who is the Shadow Leader of the House for his party. After the coup attempt and the start of the state of emergency, he called for Turkey to be suspended from the NATO military alliance because of fears for human rights. He has previously written to the Turkish Ambassador  to Britain regarding press freedom and has followed the situation in Turkey closely, regularly writing to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asking Parliamentary Questions on this subject.

The resolution is strongly worded:

  • calls for the release of the “Cumhuriyet” journalists and all other journalists and human rights defenders imprisoned in Turkey in connection with their work
  • believes that this trial represents a crackdown on freedom of speech in Turkey by the Turkish government which has seriously accelerated under the state of emergency over the last year
  • condemns the prolonged arbitrary detention without reason and the isolation of detainees by the Turkish government, which represents a violation of international law
  • is disappointed that Turkey was ranked 155th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2017 World Press Freedom Index 

According to the European Federation of Journalists, the number of journalists in detention in Turkey now stands at 164. Two of the “Cumhuriyet” staff are being tried in absentia and the other 17 are in court in Istanbul, where a team of international observers including ECPMF is monitoring the trial. Follow the proceedings at our live blog here.