Some 123 Turkish journalists are fugitives abroad, while 159 of them were in jail as of the end of April, according to a report by the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC). Turkey’s government has silenced all independent media in an effort to prevent scrutiny or criticism of its ruthless crackdown on perceived enemies. The assault on critical journalism sharpened in 2014 but accelerated after the failed coup attempt in July 2016, denying Turkey’s population access to a regular flow of independent information from domestic newspapers, radio, and television stations about developments in the country.
The crackdown on independent domestic media in Turkey includes the use of the criminal justice system to prosecute and jail journalists on bogus charges of terrorism, insulting public officials, or crimes against the state. There are many threats and physical attacks on journalists and media organizations; government interference with editorial independence and pressure on media organizations to fire critical journalists; the government’s takeover or closure of private media companies; and restrictions on access to the airwaves, fines, and closure of critical television stations.
The Freedom of Expression and Press report, which was made possible by the European Union, said 46 new investigations were launched and 20 additional cases were filed against journalists in the first four months of 2017, daily Cumhuriyet reported on May 19.
“In the past four months, Turkey continued to be the world leader with the number of journalists in jail,” the report said, adding that in nearly all of the cases regarding journalists, demands for trial without arrest had been rejected.
The Turkish government and president’s systematic effort to silence media in the country is all about preventing public scrutiny. Keeping 148 journalists and media workers in jail and closing down 169 media and publishing outlets under the state of emergency shows how Turkey is deliberately flouting basic principles of human rights and rule of law central to democracy.
The crackdown has not only targeted media and journalists associated with the Gülen movement, which the government falsely alleges is a terrorist organization responsible for the July coup attempt, but also pro-Kurdish media and independent voices critical of the government such as the newspaper Cumhuriyet and its journalists. The use of emergency powers and at Turkey’s overbroad terrorism laws and pliant justice system are means of repression.
There is a stifling atmosphere for media work and rapidly shrinking space for reporting on issues the government does not want covered. Most journalists are arrested and are in prison or had to flee Turkey to avoid prison. They include the Cumhuriyet newspaper columnist Kadri Gürsel and a former reporter for Zaman newspaper, Hanım Büşra Erdal, who are in prison, and a former reporter for Radikal newspaper, Fatih Yağmur, who left Turkey.
In the past, journalists were killed in Turkey. This government is killing journalism in its entirety. Journalists working in the southeast face serious risks and have been threatened, arrested, and ill-treated by members of the security forces and police, and even the public, in the course of reporting. However, over the past year physical attacks on journalists have not been confined to the southeast, as demonstrated by the shooting of the former Cumhuriyet editor Can Dündar, the assault on the CNNTürk journalist Ahmet Hakan outside his home, and the attacks on the Hürriyet newspaper. Authorities are not willing to investigate threats and physical attacks thoroughly, and trials against suspects do not deliver justice.
Over the past year, the government has engineered the takeover of privately-owned media and other organizations by appointing government-approved trustees to run them. This is a serious misuse of the law on trusteeship, a violation of the right to private property, and, in the case of the media, a policy of deliberate censorship aimed at suppressing critical and dissenting voices. In the period following the failed military coup, the government opted for full closure of newspapers, news agencies, radio, and television stations using state of emergency powers.
The Turkish government should end detention and prosecution of journalists based on their journalism or alleged affiliations; ensure that any closures of media during the state of emergency are only as a last resort following due process; condemn and ensure prompt and effective investigations of attacks on journalists; stop misusing the Penal Code to put media under trusteeship; and bring the Penal Code and Anti-Terror Law into compliance with Turkey’s international human rights obligations.
The US and European Union member state governments, the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and United Nations Human Rights Council should use their leverage to press the Turkish government to respect media freedom.
Free and independent media help promote the free flow of ideas, opinions, and information necessary for political processes to function, and serve as a critical check on executive authorities and powerful actors linked to them. The Turkish government’s erosion of media freedom harms Turkey and its democracy as well its international reputation.
‘Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter,’ bellowed corrupt terrorist Erdoğan. Two hundred media outlets have been closed. Thousands of journalists have been left unemployed and many have been imprisoned, all for simply being a potential thorn in the side of corrupt terrorist Erdoğan.
Turkey’s government and corrupt terrorist Erdoğan are over-sensitive to the way the country and their actions are covered by the international media. There is also a huge mistrust of journalists. And corrupt terrorist Erdoğan himself sees conspiracy in every direction, from other governments to the military, including Turkey’s, to those who are not card-carrying members of his AKP Party. Threat is, it seems to him, all around.
The TGC said “it’s inevitable” to come across harsh criticism regarding press freedom in international reports, while asking for all journalists to be released, tried without arrest and acquitted.
Saying that it was “impossible” for journalists to fulfill their duties properly, thus violating the people’s right to obtain information, the association said the problems that journalists face include limitations on freedom of expression and the press, obstructions preventing journalists from freely conducting their work because of political and economic pressures, as well as hindrances that ensure journalists who use their right to criticize or refuse to report news from a certain political perspective cannot find work.
“Opposition newspapers, TV channels and the internet media, as well as intellectuals and columnists who use their right to criticize, should be tolerated,” it said, adding that “censorship and self-censorship were on the rise.”
The TGC also criticized the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) for “contradicting the concepts of the freedom of expression and press in a democratic society.”
“The shutting down of newspapers, magazines, agencies, internet news websites, publishing and printing houses and associations and foundations weren’t developments acceptable in terms of international human rights and concepts of law,” it said.
Meanwhile, prominent Turkish journalist Kadri Gürsel, who has been under arrest for over 200 days, sent a message to the International Press Institute (IPI), which he is a member of.
“They want to intimidate journalists,” Gürsel said in his message sent to the IPI annual media congress in Hamburg.
Gürsel’s message was read by his wife, Nazire Kalkan Gürsel, Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service reported on May 19.
Elsewhere, Council of Europe commissioner of human rights, Nils Muiznieks, urged Turkish authorities to abide by the practices of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as he commented on the situations of arrested journalists and human rights activists, Cumhuriyet reported on May 19.
Muiznieks especially mentioned the conviction of journalist Murat Çelikkan to 18 months in prison in the shut-down daily Özgür Gündem case over “making propaganda” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), saying that “the development is worrying.”
“Çelikkan’s conviction provides a worrying illustration of a continuing trend of judicial actions targeting human rights defenders and an increasingly wide range of other civil society actors,” Muiznieks said.