Members of the European Parliament have begun a campaign of support for imprisoned Turkish journalists upon the initiative of leading journalism organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Green MEPs launched the campaign on Wednesday by writing to Musa Kart, a cartoonist who has been held without trial for more than five months and is facing up to 29 years in prison.
Three of the European Parliament’s political groups have so far joined RSF’s initiative to send letters to journalists imprisoned in Turkey.
The letter that members of the Greens–European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA) sent to Kart on Wednesday was signed by the group’s co-presidents, Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts, and by French MEP Eva Joly on behalf of all the other MEPs in the group.
Members of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) will send letters in the coming weeks. Other groups contacted by RSF are also expected to follow suit.
In their letter, the Green MEPs say: “We are writing this letter to assure you of our solidarity, to remind you that you are not alone, to tell you that your sarcastic take on the news is cruelly lacking as we witness Turkey’s transformation into an authoritarian regime.”
The letter ends: “Stay strong, Musa! Even thousands of kilometers away, even still unknown to you, we are at your side, committed to freedom, a free press and a democratic Turkey.”
Turkey is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists, with around 100 currently detained. Most of them were arrested under the state of emergency that was declared after an abortive coup attempt in July 2016 and most of them have not yet been tried.
Dozens of the journalists are subjected to a harsh form of solitary confinement in Section 9 of a high security prison in the İstanbul suburb of Silivri. On March 31, an İstanbul court ordered the conditional release of 21 of them, but it was blocked at the last moment by an application from the prosecutor’s office and new charges.
In all, RSF has asked five of the European Parliament’s groups to write to five imprisoned Turkish journalists.
The other four are Nazlı Ilıcak and her colleague Şahin Alpay, who are both older than 70 and have been held since late July; Kadri Gürsel, a columnist who heads the International Press Institute’s Turkish committee and who, like Kart, was arrested in late October; and Ahmet Şık, an investigative journalist who, like Kart and Gürsel, worked for the independent Cumhuriyet daily. He was arrested in late December.
“Journalism is criminalized in Turkey today,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “An editorial policy critical of President Erdoğan suffices to be jailed on a terrorism charge and denied any effective recourse. We reiterate our demand for the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned in connection with their work and the repeal of decrees issued under the state of emergency that legalize arbitrary actions and trample on free speech.”
Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The already disturbing media situation in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency declared in the wake of last July’s failed coup.
Around 150 media outlets have been liquidated by decree. At least 775 press cards and hundreds of journalists’ passports have been cancelled without any judicial proceedings. And censorship of the Internet and online social networks has reached unprecedented levels.
All these measures have drastically limited the democratic debate in the run-up to a referendum that will be crucial for Turkey’s future and is now just two weeks away.