Turkey remains one of world’s top jailers of journalists, writers

Turkey remains one the world’s top jailers of journalists, writers and intellectuals, according to recent indexes and reports released by prominent right organizations.

Turkey, along with China and Saudi Arabia, topped PEN America’s list of the world’s worst jailers of writers and public intellectuals. The top three jailers accounted for a majority of cases, 50 percent, though that number is down from 59 percent in 2019.

According to PEN America, the environment for free expression in Turkey remains extremely challenging, with new laws and regulations narrowing the space for dissent and public intellectuals.

The Council of Europe’s (CoE) annual report, “Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists,” called on Turkish authorities to cease all actions aimed at blocking or criminalizing independent reporting and take steps to restore judicial independence.

Turkish journalists face an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment, driven by the authorities’ intention to thwart critical reporting, which is exacerbated by the context of a lack of prosecutorial and judicial independence and impartiality, the CoE report said, adding that a high number of verbal attacks against journalists were made by Turkish officials during 2020.

Turkey was also ranked 153rd among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in April.

RSF said the Turkish government has used its military operations, the Syrian refugee crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic to “reinforce its authoritarian policies towards critical media.”

According to RSF, the government controls 90 percent of the Turkish media by means of regulators, while the Press Advertising Council, an agency that allocates state advertising, and the Presidential Directorate for Communications, which issues press cards, “use clearly discriminatory practices in order to marginalise and criminalise the regime’s media critics.”

In its annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) underlined that the number of journalists jailed for their reporting in 2020 reached the highest level since the organization began keeping track, with Turkey, the People’s Republic of China, and Egypt imprisoning the most reporters last year.

“Protests and political tensions were a catalyst for many arrests,” CPJ said.

Amid declining press freedom in Turkey, a report drafted by Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Utku Çakırözer, also a former journalist, showed that nearly 100 journalists appeared before a judge in March and that six of those journalists were given prison sentences totaling 15 years, two months. Three journalists were detained, while investigations were launched into two others.

The Turkish government increased its crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016 following which dozens of journalists were jailed, while more than 200 media outlets were closed down under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

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