The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a news alert issued Tuesday called on Turkish authorities to “release journalist Erkan Akkuş immediately and cease jailing members of the press for their work and political commentary.”
The former news editor and anchor for the now-shuttered Bugün TV was formally arrested and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” on August 22. A detention warrant for Akkuş has been outstanding since 2016 over his alleged connection to a coup attempt in July of that year, Turkish media reported. According to the reports Akkuş denied the charges. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
“Turkey should drop the terrorism charges against journalist Erkan Akkuş and release him immediately,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said in New York. “Turkey must stop jailing members of the press, especially during a global pandemic, when even a short time in the county’s overcrowded prisons could seriously jeopardize the journalist’s health.”
Akkuş is accused of membership in the faith-based Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity. Following the allegations, Gülen called on the Turkish government to allow for an international investigation.
Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the movement and other dissidents under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. One hundred sixty-four media organizations were shut down, over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership to or relationship with “terrorist organizations.”
According to CPJ, Turkey is one of the world’s worst jailer of journalists together with China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In a December 2019 report CPJ said Turkey has “stamped out virtually all independent reporting.” According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” list, there are currently 178 journalists behind bars and 168 journalists are wanted by Turkish authorities.