Freedom House: Turkey among “not free” countries in press freedom

The US-based Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world, has mentioned Turkey among the countries, which has ‘not free’ press in a report released on Friday.

According to the Freedom of the Press 2017 of the organization, the Turkish government, using enhanced powers under a state of emergency, carried out a massive purge of media outlets accused of links to an attempted military coup in July.

“Authorities seized control of some outlets, forcibly closed or blocked dozens of others, and detained scores of journalists,” the Freedom House said in its report.

Journalists working in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast faced serious obstacles to their reporting–such as threats, physical violence, and criminal investigations–in the context of a counterinsurgency campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and at least one journalist was killed while working in the region, and residents experienced multiple episodes of interrupted internet service or social media access, said the report.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have overseen a substantial decline in press freedom over the past decade, aggressively using the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and antiterrorism legislation to jail large numbers of journalists and punish critical reporting. The authorities have also employed legal tools and the state’s economic leverage to seize or engineer changes in ownership at major media groups, resulting in more consistently pro-government coverage by mainstream outlets.”

Media freedom deteriorated dramatically in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016. After security forces loyal to Erdoğan successfully put down the violent insurrection, the government declared a state of emergency and began to purge the bureaucracy, armed forces, and civil society of elements it accused of supporting or collaborating with the coup plotters. Erdoğan named the exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen as the mastermind of the coup, but the purge also targeted those suspected of affiliation with leftist or Kurdish organizations, said the Freedom House.

The watchdog said the press was particularly affected by the crackdown as more than 150 media outlets–including newspapers, television and radio channels, news agencies, magazines, publishing houses, and news websites–were forcibly shut down and had their assets seized in the months following the coup bid.

“As of December, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed that at least 81 journalists were behind bars in Turkey, making the country the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Other groups put the tally higher, with the Turkey-based Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) counting as many as 145 detained journalists. More than 2,700 media workers reportedly lost their jobs, hundreds lost their press credentials, an unknown number had their passports revoked and were forbidden from leaving the country, and 54 journalists had their properties confiscated,” added the watchdog.

Turkey is the worst jailer of journalists and media workers in the world. Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has announced the number of journalists behind bars as of April 20, 2017 reached to a new record with 235 languishing in Turkish jails, most without a trial and convictions. Of these journalists, 214 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. Also 100 journalists are wanted and 839 have been charged in Turkey.

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 at least 100 journalists who are forced to live in exile abroad or remain at large in Turkey. (SCF with April 28, 2017


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