Almost 300 journalists in Turkey, a member state of the Council of Europe and a candidate country to the European Union, are languishing behind bars or facing outstanding arrest warrants, a report released by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed.
“The crackdown on press freedom in Turkey is far worse than you may think,” said Abdullah Bozkurt, the President of the SCF.
“Most of them lost their freedoms on trumped-up charges made up by the authorities while the rest, fearing the imprisonment, are forced to live in exile under often difficult and very challenging circumstances,” he added.
The unprecedented crackdown by the government has targeted critical, independent and opposition media across the board, jailing hundreds of journalists, shuttering media outlets, and forcing thousands into the unemployment.
Journalists under arrest or facing arrest warrants were charged with “membership in a terrorist organization”, “spreading terrorist propaganda”, “attempting to overthrow the current government” or “espionage”, usual allegations found in any authoritarian government that is bent on silencing critical voices.
The SCF has documented individual cases of 191 journalists who are either convicted and serving time in prison or jailed in pre-trial detention. Most fall in the latter category and the authorities have not even brought indictment against so many. It also found out that 92 journalists are wanted for an arrest but remain at large either in Turkey or abroad.
In few cases, the government also went after the family members of journalists who fled for safety, arresting the wife of a chief editor of a national daily in one instance, and jailing a brother of another leading Turkish journalist in another case.
In another bizarre case of intimidation by authorities, a driver was arrested because he worked for a media outlet and was believed to have driven the company car assigned for a critical editor.
The SCF believes the information presented in this research is accurate to the best of its knowledge and declares that it remains open to make corrections, updates if further information becomes available.
Unfortunately, Turkish government claims no journalist in Turkey is jailed, says all imprisoned media workers are criminals and terrorists. Ankara did not even provide the number of the names of journalists who have allegedly committed terror or other criminal offenses. The last attempt to obtain the list was made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as part of this week’s report on ‘Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe’. The inquiries received no response as Turkish government again balked at such requests.
The government often invokes secrecy when it comes to sharing charge sheets or alleged evidence of crime against journalists with their lawyers. In many cases, family members or lawyers are unwilling to discuss details of the cases of journalists with researchers for fear of further punishment.
The journalists who are in exile or still working in the few remaining independent and critical media organizations in Turkey are faced with death threats, arrest, violence, hate speech, discrimination and censorship.
Turkey, the worst jailer of journalists worldwide, is leading the pack of notorious countries when it comes to press freedoms by a distant margin.