Turkish journalists mark Working Journalists’ Day amid calls for release of jailed, jobless and suffering journalists persecuted by Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 0n Wednesday.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. According to the most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) at least 242 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 4, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction.
Of those in Turkish prisons, 215 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 138 journalists who live 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.
Turkish Journalist Association (TGC) President Turgay Olcayto has called on the ruling party and opposition parties on Wednesday “to remove the barriers to freedom of press and expression, free imprisoned journalists and stop treating journalism as a crime,” in his message. Olcayto also called on other media workers, saying that “We need more solidarity [among each other]. Journalists should also stop targeting their colleagues.”
The TGC president has also said almost one out of every three journalists had been left unemployed in the last 10 years, 145 of which were currently imprisoned, highlighting the dire situation of journalists in the country.
According to a report by Hürriyet daily news, Olcayto has continued to say that “As journalists frequently face legal challenges, their second address has become the courthouse. Journalists cannot practice their profession. The loss of blood in the sector continues as critical journalism is not allowed. Publication bans, fines, lawsuits, detentions, arrests, censorship, and self-censorship have become daily occurrences. In addition, politicians label journalism a terrorist activity and journalists terrorists, which puts our colleagues into the crosshairs. Verbal and physical attacks on journalists continue. Despite complaints, these attacks, unfortunately, go unpunished.”
Working Journalists’ Day, celebrated in Turkey since 1961, is supposed to honor the rights of reporters and other media workers in the country.
President Erdoğan has also released a message on Tuesday to mark the day and he stated the importance of ensuring media corporations do not face any limitations as they aspire to report on events in every corner of the country as well as the world, saying this sort of work was a democratic necessity.
The News York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has named Erdoğan as the winner of several categories in their recognition of world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media, including the most thin skinned and the most outrageous user of terror laws against the press.
“Although I have been harmed by the media from time to time throughout my political life, I have always struggled, and still do struggle, to make sure that different voices and cultures are able to freely express themselves and voice their opinions,” Erdoğan claimed in his message.
“Only a free, transcendent and fair media can help create a society that is open to the world, able to follow every issue of concern in its country and humanity; a society that can voice its opinions, that is participatory and faces up to the realities of the day as they are,” he said.
Erdoğan said journalism meant not merely reporting news but also making comments. “However, some people who rely on our sensitivity to freedom of expression engage in generating disinformation in an attempt to undermine the brotherhood of our nation and the integrity of our state through manipulative news stories,” the president said.
Erdoğan’s clinching of the title of CPJ’s Most Thin-skinned world leader arises from the fact that Turkish authorities have repeatedly charged journalists, news outlets and social media users with insulting him, insulting other Turkish leaders and insulting “Turkishness” in general. Over the course of 2016, the Turkish judicial system handled 46,193 cases of “insulting the president” or “insulting the Turkish nation, the Republic of Turkey, the Parliament, the government or the institutions of the judiciary,” the Cumhuriyet daily reported in June 2017, citing figures from the Justice Ministry.
Erdoğan concluded his statement by saying his biggest wish was for working journalists to have the optimum environment where they could enjoy comfortable working conditions, improve themselves and receive the proper compensation for their labor.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also celebrated Working Journalists’ Day in a Twitter post. “It is indispensable for a democracy to ensure that journalists can work freely. Once again I’m shouting out to the world that journalism is not a crime,” Kılıçdaroğlu posted.
According to the Freedom House’s report on Freedom of the Press 2017, Turkey’s press freedom status defined as “not free.” The report also said media freedom in Turkey deteriorated dramatically in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016. “The press was particularly affected by the crackdown. More than 150 media outlets, including newspapers, television and radio channels, news agencies, magazines, publishing houses, and news websites, were forcibly shut down and had their assets seized in the months following the coup bid.”