Press Freedom in Turkey: 2023 in Review

The Turkish government continued to enjoy almost full control over the traditional media in 2023, with most mainstream outlets run by people and businesses close to the ruling party and alternative outlets operating under threat of legal harassment, censorship and arbitrary sanctions.

Not surprisingly, Turkey fell dramatically in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, slipping 16 places and ranking 165th among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

Journalism remained a risky profession as journalists faced abusive investigations, detentions, trials and convictions over their reporting or commentary. Charges leveled against media workers included insulting the president or high-ranking officials, denigrating the state or national values, spreading terrorist propaganda, fomenting enmity among the public and, under a controversial law enacted in 2022, ‘disseminating misinformation.’

According to a report by the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), a total of 280 journalists appeared in at least 821 court hearings throughout the year, while an opposition politician reported that the courts arrested 27 out of 72 journalists who were detained by law enforcement.

Turkey was also among the top jailers of journalists in the 2023 prison census of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and a global leader in terms of legal harassment of female journalists in a report released by the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ).

The devastating earthquakes of February 6 claimed the lives of at least 17 journalists.

Media outlets critical of the government were frequently sanctioned over political comments made on the air or news coverage that deviated from the official narrative.

In December a cabinet member revealed during parliamentary discussions that the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the country’s broadcasting regulator, had imposed a total of 570 sanctions on TV stations since the beginning of the year.

The outlook was also bleak in terms of online freedoms as scores of social media users faced detention and prosecution due to their posts, particularly in the aftermath of the February 6 earthquakes, which led to widespread outrage about what some segments of the public perceived as the government’s belated, inadequate and chaotic response to the disaster.

According to the 2023 Freedom on the Net report published by Freedom House, Turkey continued to rank among the “not free” countries concerning online freedoms. In June Jack Dorsey, co-founder of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, revealed in a YouTube interview that Turkey had constantly threatened to shut down the platform unless it complied with orders to restrict accounts.

Here is some of the noteworthy press and online freedom news from 2023:

Journalism on trial

ECtHR delivered several judgments against Turkey over the detention of journalists

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in February that Turkey violated Articles 5 (1), (3), (4), (5) and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Abdullah Kılıç, a journalist who was arrested by a Turkish court following an attempted coup in 2016. More..

In June the Strasbourg court faulted Turkey in the case of Hidayet Karaca, a prominent journalist and the former chief executive of the Samanyolu Media Group who had been jailed since 2014. More..

The ECtHR ordered Turkey to pay 9,800 euros to journalist Mehmet Baransu, a former correspondent for the now-defunct Taraf newspaper, for violation of his right to trial within a reasonable period of time. More..

UN working group said detention of Turkish columnist arbitrary

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that the arrest and detention of Ali Ünal, a theologian and former columnist for the now-closed Zaman daily, were arbitrary. More..

Journalist Ali Ünal

Turkish police detained journalist on Working Journalists Day

On Jan. 10, when the work and independence of journalists are celebrated in Turkey, the police detained Sezgin Kartal, a journalist from an anti-government news website. More…

2 journalists arrested for social media posts on tents allegedly withheld from quake victims

Two journalists were arrested pending trial in Osmaniye, one of 10 provinces hit by the major earthquakes in February, due to social media posts questioning the authorities over tents allegedly withheld from quake victims in the province. More..

Journalist detained at Ankara airport over earthquake coverage

Journalist Fırat Bulut, from the Yeşil Gazete news website, was detained at the airport in Ankara over his coverage of the earthquakes. More..

AFP photojournalist indicted for insulting police officers who brutally detained him

Agence France-Presse (AFP) photojournalist Bülent Kılıç, who was brutally detained while covering the İstanbul Pride March in 2021, was indicted on charges of insulting a public official and resisting arrest, while prosecutors found no grounds to investigate the police officers who detained him. More..

Jailed Kurdish journalists indicted on terrorism charges 10 months after detention

Twenty-one people, the vast majority of whom were Kurdish journalists detained in southeastern Diyarbakır province in June 2022, were indicted on terrorism charges 10 months after their detention. More..

The court accepted the indictment a few days later, and the journalists’ first hearing was scheduled for July 11. More..

Journalist detained in western Turkey after scandalous allegations about failed coup

Turkish police detained Serdar Akinan, a journalist in the western province of Çanakkale, after he made allegations about a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016. More..

Journalist given suspended sentence on Erdoğan insult charges

A court handed down a suspended sentence to Mustafa Bildircin, a reporter from the anti-government Birgün daily, on charges of insulting President Erdoğan. More..

Journalist detained while covering dispute during celebrations of Erdoğan election victory

Vedat Aker, a local journalist in the eastern province of Batman, was detained while covering a dispute that erupted during celebrations of President Erdoğan’s victory in a runoff election. More..

Journalist detained over terrorist propaganda accusations

Fırat Can Arslan, a correspondent for the Mezopotamya News Agency (MA), was detained in Ankara as part of an investigation by the Kırşehir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. More..

Courts handed down suspended sentences to 2 journalists for insult, injury

Two Turkish courts handed down suspended sentences to journalists Gökay Başcan and İdris Yılmaz on charges of insult and intentional injury, respectively. Başcan was sentenced over a photograph and caption used in a 2015 article that criticized the lack of judicial independence in the country, while Yılmaz was convicted for “using his camera as a weapon” when defending himself during a physical assault. More..

Turkey arrests journalist for remarks on jailed PKK leader

A Turkish court ruled to arrest journalist Merdan Yanardağ on charges of disseminating terrorism propaganda due to his televised remarks about Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). More..

Journalist Merdan Yanardağ

Journalist indicted for ‘targeting public officials’

An İstanbul court accepted an indictment seeking a prison sentence of up to three years for journalist Ayça Söylemez on charges of “targeting a public official involved in the fight against terrorism.” More..

Journalist faced multiple insult charges due to social media posts

Furkan Karabay, an editor at the Gerçek Gündem news website, was indicted on charges of insulting public officials in tweets that allegedly targeted two deputy ministers and a member of the country’s top court. More..

Karabay was also detained and arrested in December for reporting on judicial corruption and was one of the 31 journalists who greeted the new year behind bars. More..

Journalist Furkan Karabay

Journalist given suspended sentence due to social media posts

A Turkish court handed down a suspended 15-month sentence to Kurdish journalist Rojin Altay on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda in her social media posts. More..

Journalist indicted on charges of insulting Diyanet executives

Prosecutors indicted journalist Fatih Altaylı on charges of insulting a public official due to his remarks targeting the executives of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, also known as the Diyanet. More..

Journalist sentenced to prison due to report on misused charity donations

A Turkish court handed down a six-month sentence to journalist Sinan Aygül on conviction of trespassing due to a 2020 report about the use of meat donated to a charity at a hotel co-owned by a former ruling party lawmaker. More..

Journalist gets suspended sentence for defamation of top judiciary members

A court handed down a suspended sentence of 20 months to journalist Miyase İlknur on conviction of defaming members of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals. More..

Veteran correspondent from state-run TRT detained

Elif Akkuş, a correspondent from public broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) who was suspended from her job in April, was detained in October. More..

Journalist Elif Akkuş

Kurdish journalist arrested for alleged links to terrorism

A court in southeastern Turkey ruled to arrest Selahattin Kaygusuz, a Kurdish journalist who was detained for alleged membership in a terrorist organization. More..

Journalist detained over tweets on May election results, February earthquakes

Journalist Mehmet Kızmaz was detained over tweets regarding the presidential and parliamentary elections in May and the February earthquakes. More..

2 Kurdish journalists convicted of libel, insult

Courts in eastern Turkey convicted Kurdish journalists Hacı Boğatekin, who was sentenced to prison, and Özgür Boğatekin, who received a suspended fine. More..

Former Zaman daily executive arrested on coup charges

An İstanbul court ruled for the arrest of journalist Mehmet Kamış, the deputy editor-in-chief of a now-closed newspaper in Turkey, on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order due to his alleged role in a failed coup in 2016. More..

Journalist Mehmet Kamış

79-year-old veteran journalist sent to prison

Prominent Turkish journalist Nazlı Ilıcak was sent to prison to serve a sentence handed down on conviction of libeling a public prosecutor. More..

Kurdish journalist sent to prison to serve sentence on terrorism charges

Journalist Sıddık Güler was arrested and sent to prison after his conviction on terrorism-related charges was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals. More..

Violence against journalists

VOA reporter called ‘provocateur’ for asking MHP chair about murder of former Grey Wolves president

Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) described as a “provocateur” a reporter from Voice of America’s Turkish edition who asked the party’s leader about the assassination of the former president of the party’s youth wing. More..

Journalist allegedly beaten, mistreated in police custody

Journalist Sedat Yılmaz, who was detained in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, was allegedly mistreated and beaten while in police custody. More..

Local journalist attacked in eastern Turkey after covering alleged irregularities in AKP municipality

Sinan Aygül, a local journalist based in eastern Turkey, was attacked by two people connected to the mayor of an AKP-run municipality, which he had previously claimed was involved in irregularities. More..

Journalist Sinan Aygül after he was assaulted by people connected to the ruling party

Social media and internet freedom

Turkish gov’t restricted Twitter following deadly earthquakes

The Turkish government restricted Twitter on multiple internet providers following deadly earthquakes that killed tens of thousands in Turkey and Syria. More..

138 detained due to ‘provocative’ posts about earthquakes

Turkish prosecutors ordered the detention of 138 social media users due to “provocative” posts on social media about the earthquakes. More..

Turkish authorities blocked access to popular online debate forum

The Turkish Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) barred access to popular online debate forum Ekşi Sözlük. More..

Turkish authorities banned access to 340 URLs and websites

A Turkish court blocked access to 340 websites and URLs, including news websites, blogs and social media accounts, at the request of the Security Directorate General. More..

Twitter succumbed to Erdoğan’s pressure, silenced key voices on election eve

Ahead of the May presidential and parliamentary elections, Twitter announced that it was restricting access in Turkey to certain account holders to ensure the platform “remains available to the people of Turkey,” seen by critics as giving in to the incumbent President Erdoğan. More..

Court banned access to 2021 report on internet censorship

A Turkish court banned access to the 2021 annual report of the Freedom of Expression Association’s (İFÖD) EngelliWeb initiative, which focuses on the growing internet censorship in Turkey in 2021. More..

Turkey detained 27 X users on allegations of fomenting enmity, spreading disinformation

The police detained 27 people including a number of journalists on allegations of fomenting enmity and hatred and spreading disinformation on their X social media accounts. More..

Court banned online content upon demand from controversial jurist

A Turkish court imposed an access ban on 17 news reports concerning bribery allegations made by a mobster against a member of a top court that sparked a debate in Turkey about the shadowy relationship between the mafia and the judicial authorities. More..

8 arrested for fomenting enmity, spreading disinformation on social media

An Ankara court ordered the arrest of eight people including two journalists on charges of fomenting enmity and hatred and spreading disinformation on their X social media accounts. More..

Detention warrants issued for 23 people due to social media posts about Ankara bombing

Prosecutors issued detention warrants for 23 people over their messages on social media about a terrorist attack in Ankara that left two police officers injured. More..

X faced bandwidth reduction by half in Turkey

Social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, faced the possibility of a 50 percent bandwidth reduction in Turkey for its potential failure to comply with a Turkish social media law that requires platforms to designate a representative in the country. More..

Turkish judge accused of bribery had access blocked to 172 news reports about claims

Bekir Altun, an İstanbul judge who was named in previously revealed allegations regarding corruption in the Turkish judiciary, had access blocked to 172 news reports about the claims against him. More..

Turkey’s spy chief had access blocked to hundreds of news articles, social media posts

İbrahim Kalın, head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), had access blocked to hundreds of news articles, columns and social media posts about him. More..

Turkey blocked access to DW domains aimed at circumventing censorship

An Ankara court blocked access to two domains operated by Deutsche Welle to publish news after its Turkish service was censored by the authorities. More..

Reports revealed that Turkey requested removal of massive amount of online content from Google in 10 years

Turkish government agencies requested the removal of a total of 90,400 web pages and other content from Google in the last decade. More..

Turkey banned access to 16 VPN providers

The Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) banned access to 16 VPN providers that were frequently used to circumvent government censorship. More..

Fines and discrimination against government-critical media

RTÜK continued to sanction media outlets over comments or news coverage

In January RTÜK ordered a suspension of three episodes of a TV5 program for hosting former national football player Hakan Şükür, who is sought by the Turkish government due to his links to the faith-based Gülen movement. More..

In the aftermath of the February 6 earthquakes, RTÜK imposed fines and broadcasting bans on TV stations Tele 1, Halk TV and Fox TV for their coverage. More..

After the May presidential and parliamentary elections the agency imposed fines on four TV stations for violating broadcasting guidelines during their coverage of the elections. More..

In October, RTÜK imposed a five-time program ban as well as an upper limit fine on the government-critical Halk TV over comments made in news programs. More..

In November, the agency imposed sanctions on seven TV stations due to their content. More..

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!