17 int’l press freedom bodies write open letter to future Turkish president

Seventeen international organizations defending freedom of expression and the press published a joint letter on Wednesday on the Index of Censorship website addressing all the Turkish presidential candidates in the upcoming election on June 24.

“Your term starts in critical times. Freedom of expression in particular has declined drastically in the last couple of years in your country. To this day, more than 150 journalists remain in prison, thousands of critical thought leaders have lost their jobs and a large number of them have left the country,” the letter said.

Among the organizations undersigning the letter were the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Press Institute (IPI), World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the Danish, German, Norwegian, American and Swedish PEN.

The letter urged the future president to “uphold the rule of law and to protect and strengthen media freedom and independent journalism.”

Releasing all journalists in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression, reforming the system of criminal law, ending state control of regulation of the media and supporting the independence and pluralism of the media were some of the priorities addressed to the future president of Turkey.

The organizations also mentioned the watchdogs over media, including the Press and Advertising Agency (BİK), Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and Turkish Telecommunication Authority (BTK), saying the new government should reform and assure their transparency.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

The full text of the joint letter is as follows:

“Seventeen international freedom of expression and professional organisations have sent a joint letter with their demands for how to protect and strengthen media freedom and independent journalism in Turkey to all candidates in the upcoming presidential elections :

Your term starts in critical times. Freedom of expression in particular has declined drastically in the last couple of years in your country. To this day, more than 150 journalists remain in prison, thousands of critical thought leaders have lost their jobs and a large number of them have left the country.

We, the undersigned international freedom of expression and professional organisations, ask you to prioritise the following points in the upcoming term to uphold the rule of law and to protect and strengthen media freedom and independent journalism in Turkey:

– release all journalists who have been imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and their journalistic work and drop all charges against them.

– restore the impartiality of the judiciary and ensure the functioning of the Constitutional Court by refraining from exerting any political pressure on it and guaranteeing the implementation of its decisions.

– reform the system of criminal law that is currently being abused in order to prosecute and jail journalists, specifically the Penal Code and the Anti-Terror Law, which are among the main obstacles to freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey.

– de-centralise and end state control of the regulation of media. Let media policy and media regulation processes be implemented by journalist associations, media representatives and academics, in compliance with the jurisprudence of the ECtHR.

– support the independence and pluralism of the media by redesigning ownership restrictions, support public broadcasting media to become free from political and economic interference, ensure media pluralism by subsidising small independent local media. Legal, political and administrative measures must be adopted to ensure free and fair competition in the media.

– reform and monitor the Press and Advertising Agency (Basın İlan Kurumu) to ensure that independent newspapers are not deprived of public advertising revenue. The appointment of media and internet regulatory bodies such as RTÜK and BTK should be transparent and must answer to the principles of media independence and freedom.

June 20th, 2018

Thank you for your attention.
Yours faithfully,

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Danish PEN
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
German PEN
Global Editors Network (GEN)
Index on Censorship (Index)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso – Transeuropa (OBCT)
Ossigeno per l’Informazione (Ossigeno)
PEN America
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)”

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