Erdoğan defines jailed journalists in Turkey as ‘terrorists, bomb attackers, thieves’

After Turkey’s Deputy Minister Bekir Bozdağ, Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also claimed on Wednesday that nobody in Turkey is under investigation and in jail for having written an article or published a news report as a journalist.

Giving a live interview to Bloomberg TV in New York on Wednesday, Erdoğan has claimed that “Most of (those jailed journalists) are terrorists. They have involved with bombing attacks, many are involved with theft, many are spies.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Wednesday denied Erdoğan’s assertion about jailed journalists being terrorists and said 81 journalists were imprisoned due to journalistic activities. The CPJ denied Erdoğan’s remarks in a tweet and said: “CPJ examined 148 cases at the end of 2016 w/ court docs, lawyers, etc. We found direct link to journalism in 81 cases.”

Erdoğan had also said on March 22, 2017 that 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, Erdoğan had said: “I say, ‘give me the list of the 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] came. When you look at the crimes they committed, they include bringing bomb mechanism from northern Iraq to Turkey, another one’s crime is 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.”

Turkish Deputy PM Bozdağ has also said on Wednesday that nobody in Turkey is under investigation for having written an article or published a news report as a journalist, despite the fact that efforts are being made to create such a perception among the public.

Bozdağ’s remarks came during a media workshop held in Ankara by the International Culture, Tourism and Democracy Congress. “Turkey today is faced with a huge case of perception management claiming ‘journalists are in prison’ or ‘editors are in prison.’ … Everybody is equal before the law according to the Turkish Constitution. It is not possible to distinguish between criminals based on their jobs, status or labels. In the prisons of the Turkish Republic, no one is under investigation for writing articles or publishing news, for solely journalistic activities,” Bozdağ said.

Despite Bozdağ and Erdoğan’s attempts to deny it, according to the International Press Institute (IPI) a total of 171 journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey due to their journalistic activities. Also, the most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 284 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 18, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 259 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan has lambasted the criminal investigation targeting his bodyguards in the US and said that “My 4 guards who are indicted were not at the brawl scene, 2 of them didn’t even come to the US. Where is the US judiciary?” Claiming that the case against his bodyguards is fully political, he said that “Because we know very well the identity of the prosecutor who made that decision (of indictment).

On May 16, 2017, members of President Erdoğan’s security detail took part in a violent brawl with a group of protesters outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington while Erdoğan was paying an official visit to the country. At least 11 protesters were injured.

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department released a video of “persons of interest” believed to be in Erdoğan’s security detail who were involved in the attack on protesters. The police department also issued a wanted list for President Erdoğan’s bodyguards as criminal suspects for their attacks on protesters on May 16.

Indictments have been issued for 19 people, including 15 members of Erdoğan’s security detail, for attacking the protesters in Washington, D.C. The indictments, which were announced in August, accuse the perpetrators of attacking people who were protesting the visit of Erdoğan and of committing a crime of violence. Some of them also face charges of assault with a deadly weapon. While 16 defendants were charged in June, three new defendants, all of whom are Turkish security officials, were added to the indictment.

Erdoğan has also claimed that Turkey has no problem in regard of human rights violations and said that “If those who complain about human rights issues, and if they want to see the positive developments in the human rights, they should come to Turkey.”

Swedish human rights activist Ali Gharavi and non-violence trainer Peter Steudtner were arrested as they had been participating a human rights meeting in İstanbul’s Büyükada island on June 5, 2017 together with Amnesty International’s Turkey Director İdil Eser and 6 other human rights defenders. Amnesty International’s Turkey Board Chairman Taner Kılıç has been in jail for months.

Turkey has drifted into a severely oppressive regime particularly since massive corruption investigations in December 2013 and a botched coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Turkey has been undertaking a massive purge since the coup attempt that is not limited to journalists. Thousands of academics, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, teachers and doctors are behind bars over charges of coup involvement.

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