International Rivers Condemns Suppression of Freedom of Speech

Peter Bosshard
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Statement by Dr. Peter Bosshard, Policy Director, International Rivers, in Istanbul

Yesterday, Payal Parekh and Ann-Kathrin Schneider, two staff members of International Rivers, unfurled a banner at the opening ceremony of the World Water Forum in Istanbul. The banner said, No More Risky Dams. The action was totally peaceful, and many people in the audience applauded.

The police immediately detained Payal Parekh and Ann-Kathrin Schneider, and held them at an Istanbul police station all day and night. This morning, Ms. Payal was deported to the US, and Ms. Schneider, to Germany. They have been banned from re-entering Turkey for two years.

This was unfortunately not the first act of Turkish repression against International Rivers. At a conference organized by UNEP's Dams and Development Project several years ago, a Turkish government delegate repeatedly and publicly threatened to kill Patrick McCully, International Rivers' Executive Director, if he ever entered Turkey after he made critical comments about dams in Southeast Anatolia. The delegate remained part of the Turkish delegation.

We strongly condemn the aggressive response by the Turkish police to yesterdays's peaceful protest. We ask the World Water Council to stand up for freedom of speech, and to make it clear to the Turkish government that the detention and deportation of peaceful protesters is unacceptable.

The World Water Council claims that the Forum is an open, democratic space. This is not the case. Most civil society groups have been excluded by the high fees of this trade fair. Those who could pay the fee saw most of their proposals for panels and side events rejected. The Forum's agenda is dominated by the water industry, governments, and international financial institutions. It is all the more important that peaceful protests be allowed at the Forum.

While the police action is unacceptable, it has a long history. Many large dams have destructive impacts on people and the planet. Dams have displaced between 40-80 million people globally, and have impoverished millions more. Dams are also the reason that freshwater ecosystems have the most species threatened by extinction.

Affected people and civil society groups around the world are fighting destructive dams, and are protesting against their construction. Authorities have often met their protests with serious human rights violations, including intimidation, arrests, even extrajudicial killings and massacres.

It is no coincidence that most large dams are today being built in countries with authoritarian governments. They include China, Burma, Iran, and unfortunately, Turkey. If freedom of expression is not suppressed, destructive dams can usually not be built.

We again condemn the unacceptable repression of freedom of speech by the Turkish police, and we call on the World Water Council to do the same. We also thank the people of Istanbul for their hospitality, and our friends from Turkey's "Another Water Management is Possible Campaign" for their strong support. Thank you.

Media contacts: 

Ann-Kathrin Schneider, International Rivers (now in Berlin), +49 177 2905 702

Peter Bosshard, International Rivers (in Istanbul), +90 531 725 94 38

Antonia Juhasz, International Rivers (in San Francisco), +1 415 846 5447

More information: 

Visit International Rivers' World Water Forum page.