The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) has issued symbolic accreditation badges for 95 jailed Turkish journalists to attend the EU-Turkey leaders meeting in Varna, Bulgaria, set for March 26.
The journalists will not be able to cover the gathering and do their job of holding politicians accountable for their actions because they are behind bars in Turkey, victims of a government crackdown on dissent and the free media following an attempted coup in July 2016.
The AEJ-Bulgaria has invited the Bulgarian and international journalists who will cover the meeting in Varna to take a symbolic badge with the name and picture of a Turkish colleague and speak on their behalf, sending the message that “Journalists are not terrorists and cannot be treated as such for their work. Even if you put critical journalists in jail, you will not stop hearing them — others will raise their voices. We will speak with their voice.”
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) show 245 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 20, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 190 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which the government accuses of masterminding the failed coup, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt.
“We urge Turkey to release immediately the journalists who have been detained for their work. The European Union must not remain silent on this issue and has to put the fate of the detained journalists as a condition for any rapprochement with Ankara,” the AEJ-Bulgaria has announced in advance of the Varna meeting, at which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
The leaders are expected to discuss how to move the EU-Turkey relationship forward on the basis of mutual respect and common interests.
At the European Council meeting of Oct. 19, 2017 EU leaders held a debate on relations with Turkey. While they stressed their full commitment to the cooperation with Turkey on migration, they also tasked the commission to reflect on whether to cut and re-orient pre-accession funds given the situation in the country.