TGC calls on Turkish gov’t to release jailed journalists before elections

Photo: Hürriyet

The state of emergency “should be lifted” and imprisoned journalists should be released ahead of upcoming elections on June 24, the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) said in a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

According to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News, the TGC said, “We have been considering the necessity of lifting the state of emergency, releasing journalists in jail, the return of fundamental rights and freedoms to the citizens for healthy elections.”

“We also deem it a duty to demand the removal of barriers to freedom of expression, an end to the oppression of journalists, writers, academics and artists, and the independence of the judiciary for our country to reach a bright future,” it added.

Reminding that the punitive and financial pressures on  journalists have increased since the state of emergency was declared following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the TGC statement said that “censorship has been on the rise, investigative journalism has been restrained and 148 journalists are still kept behind bars.”

The TGC also emphasized that politicians, both those in power and in the opposition, have important responsibilities to try and reduce the tensions and polarization among society.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced his plans for restoring freedom of the press. “You have my word, we will implement all of them if you give us a mandate on June 24,” said Kılıçdaroğlu, referring to restricting media bosses from operating in several industries, preventing monopoly in the distribution sector, the unionization of journalists, reorganizing the media watchdog and regulating the advertising industry.

On the other hand, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy group chair Bülent Turan said the press is a vital component of a democracy. “We have witnessed the press being used as a tool of political tutelage especially in times of putsches,” he told reporters, celebrating with them on World Press Freedom Day.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 254 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 62 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets, including Kurdish TVs and papers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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