Freedom Forum 2020

Turkey Freedom Forum is a unique convention for human rights activists, intellectuals and policy makers focused on human rights violations in Turkey organized by AST. Participants will not only affirm the ongoing conflict and its influences in Turkey but also be able to develop strategies to champion human rights worldwide through panels, discussions and workshop opportunities, an art exhibition and legal training sessions. In pursuance of justice and peace, this forum aims to bring hundreds of people of human rights seekers together and also to foster the dynamics to mobilize.

Freedom Forum Countdown

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Washington, D.C.

  • March 24, 20208 AM - 5 PM
  • The National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

Forum Speakers

Enes Kanter

Host Committee Chair

NBA Player and Human Rights Activist

Former CEO of Zaman Newspaper

Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior

Executive Director of Alliance for Shared Values

Albanian Journalist Recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the

Arzu Yildiz


Journalist, Recipient of Media Ethics Award and The Bravest Woman Award

Freelance Journalist, Receipent of Metin Goktepe Journalism Award

Director / Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University

Former CEO of Zaman Newspaper

Editor of The Fountain Magazine

Hayko Bagdat



The Committee of Concerned Scientists

Ibrahim Kurt


Professor of Education and Culture / Broken Chalk Organization

Founder of Texas Civil Rights Project and Human Rights Attorney

President of Lantos Foundation for Human Rights

London Advocacy, Research Fellow & Communications Officer, Journalist

Kisten Govender

South Africa

Elected Member of South African Legal Practice Council

Resident Scholar, AEI

Mesut Kacmaz


Former Director of Public Relations at PakTurk Schools

Attorney, Advocate, NYT Bestselling Author

Arvay Finlay, Lawyers’ Rights Watch

Chair, Department of Religious Studies / California State University at Long Beach

Phd Penn State Law, Former Judge and Head of Human Rights Department,

Director of the Center for Global Learning at Cabrini University

Forum Agenda


In the aftermath of the failed coup, the government closed down 179 media outlets – including 53 newspapers, 37 radio stations, 34 TV channels, 29 publishing houses, 20 magazines, and six news agencies – with accused links to the Gulen movement, Kurdish opposition, or Leftists groups. Consequently, a total of 2,308 media workers and journalists have lost their jobs. The government cancelled hundreds of press accreditations and revoked passports of an unknown number of journalists and their family members to ban them from traveling abroad. In addition, the government imprisoned a record-breaking number of journalists in the wake of the coup attempt – with that, Turkey became the world’s largest prison for journalists. The Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that at least 126 journalists and media workers were in prison in Turkey as of October 2019 – among them, many were put in long solitary confinement.

The absence of freedom of expression is not only a recurring problem for journalists but for citizens as well. In 2018, the Ministry of Interior reported that more than 7,000 individuals were detained for their social media posts after investigating 631,233 digital materials. In relation to the censorships and content restrictions in the country, Wikipedia has been blocked in Turkey since April of 2017. Currently, out of the 180 countries, Turkey ranks 157 th on the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders and are listed among ‘not free’ countries by the Freedom House.


Abdulhamit Bilici
Arzu Yildiz
Ian Jauslin
Ibrahim Kurt
Rabia Chaudry


The so-called coup attempt was a watershed moment in Turkey’s modern history. The government immediately declared a state of emergency and ruled the country with decrees, which had the full force of law, for two years. Although the emergency regime officially ended last summer, the measures taken by the government during the emergency rule remain in place after authorities enacted a new set of laws that made decrees permanent.The abortive coup provided President Erdogan and his party the much-needed pretext and unlimited latitude to embark on a massive purge to dismiss their real and perceived political opponents from public service.As one of the most obvious targets of government Kurdish people have been exposed to harsh violations.As indicated in the first OHCHR report,103 Decree 674 of 1 September 2016 permitted the Central Government to appoint “trustees” in lieu of elected mayors, deputy mayors or members of municipal councils suspended on charges of terrorism.104 Since September 2016, 87 out of 105 mayors were imprisoned, including 35 women and 52 men. All are of Kurdish origin. Within the security operations taking place in areas home to, in large part, to Kurdish residents and targeted citizens of Kurdish origin of all ages for their perceived affiliation to the PKK, individuals have been killed, women have been sexually assaulted, and many acts of torture have been committed.

Over 100,000 websites were reportedly blocked in 2017, including a high number of pro-Kurdish websites and satellite TVs.


Arbana Xharra
Hayko Bagdat
Kerim Balci
Michael Rubin
Mesut Kacmaz


With approximately 4,200 judges and prosecutors (including two judges from the Turkey’s highest court) dismissed permanently, over one-fifth of Turkey’s judiciary has been removed. Of those dismissed, at least 2,200 were jailed with their assets frozen. Consequently, the climate of fear paralyzed the judges and prosecutors who still have their positions. The fear combined with the heavy government influence in the court system led to the collapse of the judiciary system and the deterioration of human rights in the country. As a result, Turkey ranked 109 out of 126 countries in 2019 on the rule of law index of World Justice Project.


Bulent Ceyhan
Jim Harrington
Kisten Govender
Sebastian Ennis
Talip Aydin


The prison conditions for women and children are exceedingly alarming. According to the Justice Ministry, as of 2017, nearly 10,000 women and 3,000 children under 18 are in Turkey’s prisons. The inhumane prison conditions also hold weight in women prisons. They face additional issues of the male security staff frequently obstructing their privacy during hospital visits, often times leading to incomplete examination. Among the prisoners, there are pregnant women or women who just gave birth and 677 children under 6 years old imprisoned along with their mothers – including 149 infants under 1 year old. Pregnant women were forced to stay with other inmates in overcrowded cells, also denied access to proper prenatal care – posing serious risks to their well-beings.


Sophia Pandya
Vonya Womack


There is an emerging widespread consensus among scholars and journalists over the nature of the political regime in Turkey. One chief assumption rests at the center of countless diverse studies — Turkey is no longer a democracy and there is little space for free speech. Whether Turkey could be identified as a dictatorship still remains a matter of an ensuing academic controversy. The scholarly position oscillates between divergent viewpoints from “smart authoritarianism” to emerging fascism. The debate is not just about semantics or the epistemological dimension, it is about the essence and soul of the living system in Turkey.


Alon Ben-Meir
Alp Aslandogan
David Phillips
Ekrem Dumanli
Hakan Yesilova
Katrina Lantos

Art Exhibition

About Us

AST is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit charitable and educational organization based in NJ exclusively for defending human and civil rights. Our mission is to address all human rights violations in Turkey regarding civil, political, economic, social and cultural as contained in the basic human rights documents; to prevent genocide, crime against humanity, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill treatment, discrimination; to defend the right to life, rule of law, right to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of associations;bring all human rights violations in Turkey to the forefront and will use all necessary mechanisms to seek justice those whose voices are being silenced in Turkey and beyond via UN, European Council (CoE), European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), European Union (EU).

In partnership with  Ura