Turkish authorities continue to use a 2016 coup attempt as an excuse to clamp down on critical voices, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Tuesday in a statement about the sentencing of five Turkish journalists to prison on terrorism charges.
A court in Antalya province on Monday convicted three journalists of membership in a terrorist organization and two others of aiding a terrorist organization over their links to the Gülen movement.
“Turkish authorities seem intent on continuing their years-long legal harassment of journalists, using the failed 2016 coup attempt as an excuse to clamp down on critical voices,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must not contest the appeals of the five journalists recently sentenced to prison, and should stop weaponizing the country’s anti-terror laws to prosecute journalists in retaliation for their work.”
Cihat Ünal, Ömer Özdemir and Serhat Şeftali, who worked for the Cihan news agency, were sentenced to six years, three months in prison. Osman Yakut, a journalist for the Zaman daily, and Olgun Matur, owner of the Bizim Antalya news website, were each sentenced to three years, two months. The defendants will remain free while they appeal the verdicts, and all have pleaded not guilty, according to CPJ.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt in July 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
The Zaman daily and Cihan news agency were part of the Feza Media Group. The group was seized by the government on March 4, 2016 over its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, to be subsequently closed down with an emergency decree-law issued after a failed coup on July 15, 2016.
During the same hearing five other journalists — Ali Orhan, Hasan Yavaşlar, Özkan Mayda, Kenan Baş and Onur Fazıl Soydal — were acquitted of all charges.
Turkish journalists are often targeted and jailed for their journalistic activities. Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
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.