Amnesty calls on Turkey to end media crackdown, release jailed journalists

Readers protested the seizure of Zaman Media Group on March 4, 2016 in Istanbul.

Human rights advocacy group Amnesty International has called on Turkish authorities to put an end to an ongoing media crackdown in the country and to free the journalists held in Turkey’s prisons.

“Turkey now jails more journalists than any other country. One third of all imprisoned journalists in the world are being held in Turkish prisons, the vast majority waiting to be brought to trial. Journalists and media workers from all strands of opposition media have been targeted in an unprecedented crackdown since the violent coup attempt in July 2016. Coupled with the closure of more than 160 media outlets, the message is clear and disturbing: the space for dissent is ever-shrinking and speaking out comes at an immeasurable cost,” Amnesty said in statement on Friday.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has increasingly tightened its grip over journalists and media outlets since a failed coup on July 15 that killed 240 people. As of March 1, 2017, Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has confirmed that 200 journalists and media workers are behind bars in Turkey, a world record by any measure. Of these journalists, 179 are arrested pending trial and without a conviction. Most of the journalists do not even know what the charges are or what evidence, if any, the government has because the indictments were not filed yet.

The Turkish government is apparently using arbitrary arrests as part of intimidation campaign to suppress critical coverage, muzzle independent media and silence journalists. Only 21 journalists who are in jail were convicted while the rest are in abusive and long pre-trial detentions. Moreover, sweeping detention warrants have been issued for 92 journalists who are forced to live in exile abroad or remain at large in Turkey.

“This crackdown must end. Act now to demand media freedom in Turkey. Journalists and other media workers must be freed from pre-trial detention. A free media is an essential component of any functioning, pluralist society. They must be allowed to do their job, because journalism is not a crime,” said Amnesty.

In a controversial speech last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the journalists in the country’s prisons are all “thieves, child abusers or terrorists.”

Speaking at one of his regular meetings with muhtars [neighborhood heads] at the presidential palace in Ankara last Wednesday, Erdoğan said: “I say, ‘Give me the list of jailed journalists.’ I look at the list and see that all of them are thieves, child abusers or terrorists. Recently, a 149-person list [of jailed journalists] arrived. When you look at the crimes they committed, they include bringing bomb components from northern Iraq to Turkey; another one’s crime was to carry out an armed attack on a police vehicle. Another one was arrested with explosives. There are many from bank robbers to those setting election offices on fire among them. While 144 of them were jailed on terror charges, four of them were jailed for committing petty crimes.” (SCF with turkishminute.com) March 24, 2017

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