Turkey still the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, says Pen International

Turkey is still the world’s number-one jailer of journalists, said Pen International in its 2019 case list, which monitored 212 cases of repression of writers across the globe, marking a slight rise compared to the previous year’s total of 205.

According to PEN, “Turkey retained the dubious accolade of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists; at least 113 were behind bars at the end of the year. They included news editor, poet and reporter Nedim Türfent, whose sentence was upheld by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Cassation in October despite blatant violations of his right to a fair trial. In a shocking move, the Turkish authorities re-arrested writer and journalist Ahmet Altan a mere eight days after he was released pending appeal in November. He had already spent over three years in pre-trial detention. Writer and opposition politician Selahattin Demirtaş and publisher, civil society leader and philanthropist Osman Kavala remained behind bars despite landmark rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordering their immediate release.”

Furthermore, “[t]hirty-seven writers are known to be standing trial globally, at least 10 in Turkey, mostly related to the 2016 coup attempt, but also including several who have been before the courts since 2010,” PEN stated.

Despite this bleak outlook on Turkey PEN hailed the ruling of the Turkish Constitutional Court on 10 academics who were prosecuted because they signed a peace petition.

“In July, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that the rights of 10 academics who signed a peace petition in 2016 had been violated; hundreds of signatories on trial were subsequently acquitted. In December, the Court ruled that the two-year long country’s ban on Wikimedia was unlawful and that it should be lifted immediately.”

On China, PEN stated that “[l]engthy terms of imprisonment and pre-trial detention account for the largest number of attacks, with a total of 67 recorded in 2019. Of these the largest cluster are in China, including the Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions, where twenty-one writers are in prison, nearly all held under National Security legislation. Among them are at least seven writers who were arrested in the recent crackdown against 1,000s of Uyghur Muslims in the last year.”

“Imprisonment continues to be used to silence critical writers in several other countries in the Middle East and North Africa including in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, the UAE and Bahrain. In Turkey four writers are among the over 100 journalists who are in prison with many more on trial and at threat of imprisonment. Six poets were imprisoned in Myanmar and are serving sentences for their criticism of the army,” PEN noted.

“The highest profile, and most shocking, case in recent years was the murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra judicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnès Callamard reported in June 2019 that Khashoggi was the ‘victim of a premeditated extrajudicial execution, for which the State of Saudi Arabia is responsible’. Eleven men were sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for the murder in December. The killing, the court claimed, was a spontaneous rather than a premeditated act. This conclusion was derided by observers as exonerating the masterminds behind what they see as an assassination linked to high levels in the Saudi government, with Callamard calling it ‘the antithesis of justice’ and a ‘mockery’. PEN Centres have joined with Amnesty International and other rights monitors to call for complete justice for Khashoggi.”

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), 165 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, while 167 who were forced into exile are wanted on fabricated terrorism charges. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest newspaper as well as popular TV networks since 2015.

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