Journalists who fled Turkey to escape persecution under the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed threats to media freedom in light of what has been happening over the past few years in the country at an event organized by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) at ABF-huset in Stockholm on Wednesday.
Titled “Press Freedom: Documenting why and how journalists are jailed in Turkey,” the panel discussion featured director of the Swedish-based Nordic Research and Monitoring Network Abdullah Bozkurt, the former Ankara bureau chief for the now-closed Today’s Zaman newspaper, and SCF’s secretary-general, Levent Kenez, former editor-in-chief of the Meydan daily, which was unlawfully shut down by the government in 2016.
In the first session of the event, Kenez delivered a presentation on the situation of media outlets and journalists in Turkey. “In comparison to other countries, EU-candidate Turkey jails more journalists than the rest of the world combined. The situation in Turkey is far worse than anybody thinks. Journalists and media professionals currently in prison, numbering around 200, do not receive the required attention from the international community or journalist advocacy organizations.” Kenez stated.
Explaining the cases of imprisoned journalists, Kenez told the audience that Turkish prosecutors present tweets and retweets critical of the government as criminal evidence supporting accusations of terrorist organization membership.
“Defendants are not selected randomly, but systematically. When analyzing cases, one can easily notice that those who were critical of the government, reported on corruption or exposed Erdoğan’s support for jihadist elements at home or abroad were blacklisted long before,” he added.
Bozkurt explained that the Erdoğan government has been cracking down on press freedom to silence journalists who exposed wrongdoings on the part of the government. “Erdoğan wants to build a new authoritarian, Islamist Turkey that is not based on the rule of law, democratic values and fundamental rights and freedoms. For that project, he needs a totally loyalist and supportive media landscape and had to kill the independent, critical and opposition media,” he said.
In response to a question about whether the systematic campaign of intimidation against him taking its cues from the state apparatus poses a danger in his daily life, Bozkurt said he and many exiled journalists are concerned about their safety abroad because of the long arm of the Turkish government in harassing and intimidating people who express criticism and dissent.