MFRR report reveals widespread media freedom violations in Turkey in first half of 2023

There were 136 cases of press and media freedom violations in Turkey, involving 172 persons or media entities, in the first six months of 2023, Turkish Minute reported, citing Deutsche Welle Turkish service and Media Freedom Rapid Response’s (MFRR) latest report.

The monitoring report said the large-scale crackdown on press freedom and systemic repression of independent media in Turkey continued between January and June 2023, with a record number of 136 cases of press and media freedom violations documented.

Turkey remained one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world, MFRR said, adding that 21 journalists were behind bars at the time of publishing.

According to the report, “legal incidents” remained the most common threat to press freedom in the country, accounting for 44.9 percent of the recorded cases.

While arbitrary arrests, criminal charges and convictions were continuously used to intimidate journalists and silence critical and independent reporting, charges of terrorism, “insulting public officials,” “insulting the president” and “openly inciting people to hatred and enmity” were often used in the trumped-up charges against journalists, the report said.

MFRR further stated that Sinan Aygül, a local journalist in eastern Turkey, in late February became the first member of the press to be convicted under Turkey’s new “disinformation law” passed by parliament in late 2022.

Many journalists were also detained while reporting in the disaster areas in the aftermath of massive earthquakes on Feb. 6., the report said, adding that several journalists who criticized the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s response to the earthquakes were arrested.

According to the report, local sources reported that access to X, formerly known as Twitter, was temporarily blocked by the government soon after the earthquakes and that Turkish authorities arbitrarily denied journalists’ accreditation to the earthquake areas.

At least 10 Kurdish journalists were arrested in dawn raids in 21 provinces across Turkey in relation to counterterrorism investigations led by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in April. The report said the raids “represented another step in the systematic harassment and intimidation of journalists reporting on issues of public interest, in particular those of Kurdish descent.”

According to MFRR, journalists, including foreign reporters, were blocked from entering Turkey or detained while attempting to leave the country on several occasions in the first half of the year.

It was also noted in the report that journalists in Turkey were often subjected to physical violence, especially by private parties, while covering the elections and earthquake-hit areas, with public officials and their security guards also being behind several physical assaults on journalists.

MFRR said Turkey’s government-controlled media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), continued sanctioning media outlets “in a discriminatory manner” due to their critical reporting, especially on the earthquakes and elections.

According to the report, the sanctions consisted of fines and temporary bans on TV programs, with Turkish courts issuing access blocking orders on hundreds of news articles and social media posts.

MFRR also said the Ministry of Industry and Technology did not renew the operating license of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Turkish service in March after it was blocked in June 2022 at the request of RTÜK.

“DW is no longer able to operate in Turkey as a legal entity, forcing its reporters and editors to continue working as freelancers, deprived of stable work contracts and social security benefits,” the report said.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, eliminating media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 165th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

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