23 October 2012

Turkey leads world in number of jailed journalists

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

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(CPJ/IFEX) - 22 October 2012 - The Turkish government is engaging in a broad offensive to silence critical journalists through imprisonment, legal prosecution, and official intimidation, a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. As tensions between Turkey and Syria escalate, a choke on information and climate of fear could deter important, probing news coverage.

CPJ has identified 76 journalists imprisoned in Turkey as of August 1, 2012, making the country the leading jailer of journalists worldwide, surpassing Iran, Eritrea, and China. Following a case-by-case review, CPJ concluded that at least 61 journalists were being held in direct relation to their work, the highest figure globally in the last decade.

"As a rising regional and global power, Turkey's economic and political success should be matched by respect for the universal right to freely exchange news, information, and ideas," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Turkey's tendency to equate critical journalism with terrorism is not justified by the country's security concerns. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should cease his attacks on the press and instead provide justice for journalists while pursuing reforms that guarantee freedom of expression."

CPJ's 53-page report, which is also available in Turkish, features letters sent from imprisoned journalists and even government responses to CPJ inquiries. In addition, the report details the case of each journalist jailed in Turkey, made possible through CPJ interviews with their defense lawyers and review of public records. Some key findings and recommendations from the report are listed below.

Key Findings

- Turkey was holding 76 journalists in prison as of August 1, 2012. At least 61 of these journalists were jailed in direct relation to their published work or newsgathering activities. CPJ continues to investigate the 15 other cases to determine whether the journalists were imprisoned for their work.

- Approximately 30 percent of the imprisoned journalists were accused of participating in anti-government plots or being members of outlawed political groups.

- About 70 percent of those jailed were Kurdish journalists charged with aiding terrorism by covering the views and activities of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and the Union of Communities in Kurdistan, or KCK.

- More than three-quarters of the imprisoned journalists have not been convicted of a crime but are being held as they await resolution of their cases.

- Articles in the penal code give authorities wide berth to use journalists' professional work to link them to banned political movements or alleged plots. Some of the most frequently used articles criminalize basic newsgathering activities, such as talking to security officials or obtaining documents. Up to 5,000 criminal cases were pending against journalists at the end of 2011, according to Turkish press freedom groups.

- A 2007 Internet law codified Turkey's ad hoc filtering, permitting whole websites to be blocked at the ISP level. CPJ found increased filtering of domestic news sources, including opposition and pro-Kurdish media that local experts consider unlawful even under Turkey's expansive Internet censorship regulations and runs contrary to international press freedom standards.

Key Recommendations

- The Turkish government should release all imprisoned journalists held on the basis of journalistic activities; halt the criminal prosecution of journalists in connec­tion with their reporting and commentary; and end the practice of jailing journalists for prolonged periods as they await trial or a court verdict.
- Prime Minister Erdoģan should stop filing defamation complaints against critical journalists, publicly deprecating such journalists, and pressuring critical news outlets to tone down coverage.

- The government must—in consultation with local press freedom groups—fundamentally and comprehensively reform all laws used routinely against the press, including provisions in the penal code and anti-terror law that criminalize newsgathering and publishing critical or opposing views.

- Turkey should reform laws and regulations governing the Internet to bring them in line with international standards for freedom of expression.

- The Council of Europe should hold Turkey accountable under the European Convention on Human Rights and demand substantive changes in the government's legislation and policies so that they comply with European and international human rights standards.

- The United States must engage Turkish leaders on press freedom and freedom of expression in bilateral and multilateral meetings, and U.S. leaders should insist on Turkey's compliance with international standards for freedom of the press and freedom of expression as a basis for continued stra­tegic cooperation.

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