Romanian journalists call for release of imprisoned Turkish colleagues

Romanian journalists and representatives of several NGOs called for the Turkish government to release imprisoned journalists immediately at an event organized in the Romanian capital of Bucharest last Friday to discuss press freedom woes in Turkey, where nearly 200 journalists are jailed on false charges.

The event was held at the headquarters of the Institutul Naţional de Statistică, the government statistical agency located across from the Palace of Parliament. The day-long panel discussion was moderated by veteran Romanian journalist Teodor Tita, news editor at radio station Europa FM. Participants included Sabin Orcan, the editor-in-chief of Newsweek Romania, which published a four-page ad listing the names of all 191 journalists who are jailed in Turkey in a special edition that commemorated the first anniversary of its publication. 

Levent Kenez, the secretary-general of the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), which maintains a database of jailed journalists and monitors their legal cases in Turkey, delivered a presentation of the situation of media outlets and journalists in Turkey.

“The jailing of journalists in Turkey followed a familiar pattern, and the selection was by no means a random process,” Kenez argued, providing specific examples from the cases of imprisoned journalists who wrote about corruption in government and exposed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s clandestine support for armed jihadist groups in Syria. “The country’s best investigative journalists were targeted in the initial sweep by the government, and then it became a huge crackdown that ensnared everybody in the critical, independent and opposition media,” Kenez stated.

“Turkey has become a notorious example and model for the rest of the world for what happens one by one in a country if press freedom fades away,” he added.

Abdullah Bozkurt, director of the Swedish-based Nordic Research and Monitoring Network, explained how the regime of President Erdoğan is going after critical journalists to do away with the counter-narrative that challenges his vision for Turkey and that sounds alarm bells over distancing Turkey from its traditional allies and partners.

“Erdogan and his Islamist and neo-nationalist allies have been building a new Turkey in their own image and are bent on diverting Turkey from NATO and democratic European institutions such as the European Union and the Council of Europe. For that they need to silence critical voices in Turkish society, beginning with critical and independent journalists,” Bozkurt remarked.

In the afternoon panel debate, Cristina Guseth, director of the Freedom House Romania Foundation, spoke about solidarity among journalists in opposing the crackdown on press freedoms and suggested that a Europe-wide network as well as a global one can be established to strengthen the voices of those who advocate freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Ana Maria Luca, a Romanian correspondent who works for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and writes for Balkan Insight, highlighted the polarization in the media landscape and promoted the view that journalists must be united in defending their rights and freedoms. Adelina Rădulescu, an editor with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Romanian Service, was also among the participants in the discussion.

The event was co-sponsored by Newsweek Romania, the Freedom House Foundation, RFE/RL Romania Service, SCF, Nordic Research and Monitoring Network, Zaman Romania and Asociația pentru Dialog și Valori Universale. (SCF, Nordic Monitor)

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