Eight international press freedom and journalism organizations have highlighted the continued jailing of over 120 journalists in Turkey as “a deep stain on the country’s human rights record” at the launch of a joint report in Brussels. “Turkey must urgently revise all anti-terror and defamation laws, repeatedly abused to silence critical press. In particular it must end the deliberate conflation of public criticism with terrorism propaganda,” says the report.
The report “Turkey’s Journalists in the Dock: The Judicial Silencing of the Fourth Estate” called on Turkey to release all jailed journalists, stop the arbitrary persecution of the press, revise anti-terror and defamation laws and end political interference in the judiciary.
The report is the result of a collaboration among the International Press Institute (IPI), ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF), Norwegian PEN, PEN International.
It was shared with the public during a conference held in Brussels on Nov. 18, where leading journalists from Turkey testified on the prosecutions facing journalists in the country.
The report reflects the findings of a joint mission to Turkey from Sept. 11 to 13, during which the eight groups met with Turkey’s Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Ministry of Justice, as well as Turkey-based civil society groups and journalists.
The report said the situation of the media in Turkey has not improved since the lifting of the state of emergency in July 2018. “Scores of journalists remain behind bars or under travel bans as a consequence of an extended, politically motivated crackdown against the media,” it said.
Hundreds of journalists have faced prosecution since the coup, mainly on terrorism-related charges, the report said, adding the number of journalists still in jail had fallen from a high of over 160.
“Behind those figures lies a story of egregious violations of fundamental rights, with dozens of journalists held on the most serious terrorism-related charges for months, sometimes years, pending trial, in many cases without an official indictment,” it said.
Journalists were jailed “as a consequence of an extended, politically motivated crackdown against the media”, the report said, adding that Turkey has been the world’s “undisputed leading jailor of journalists” for almost a decade.
It said Turkey’s judiciary had been flooded with cases since the coup but had been unable to properly examine them because a third of all judges were among those removed from office due to suspected links to the failed coup.
“The removal of up to one-third of judges and a wave of cases resulting from the post-coup-attempt crackdown has placed a burden on the judiciary but cannot be used as an excuse to fail to offer redress to ongoing, systemic and severe violations of fundamental rights,” it said.
“The judicial reform strategy (JRS), announced in May 2019 by the Turkish government to address flaws in the justice system, will not be credible unless it guarantees judicial independence in both law and practice and ends the arbitrary persecution of journalists.”
Trials against many journalists still continue in the country.
Last week, a Turkish court ordered prominent journalist and author Ahmet Altan back to jail, a week after he was released following a retrial on coup-related charges, in a case condemned by human rights groups and by the IPI.