In a letter to the European Union’s top officials, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday asked the union to call for the release of jailed Turkish journalists as a matter of priority during their scheduled meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Bulgaria on March 26.
The letter issued by the CPJ is as follows:
“Dear Mr. Tusk, Mr. Juncker,
Dear Mr. Tusk, Mr. Juncker,
“The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, international press freedom advocacy organization, requests that you call for the release of Turkish journalists as a matter of priority during your scheduled meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Varna, Bulgaria, on March 26.
“We call on you to robustly reiterate the recent statement by High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn to uphold the January 11 Constitutional Court ruling on journalists Mehmet Altan, who is in prison, and Şahin Alpay, who is currently under house arrest; call for their release; and stress the need for effective legal remedy in the country. This should be accompanied by calls to respect the March 20 judgment of the European Court on Human Rights on the same dossiers and to express the important precedent that this judgment sets for other imprisoned journalists in the country.
“The EU still has leverage to improve the press freedom situation in Turkey. However, as the slide to absolute authoritarianism continues, this leverage will weaken. The time to act is now.
“Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, with more than 70 behind bars in relation to their work at the time of CPJ’s latest prison census. CPJ’s weekly Turkey Crackdown Chronicle tracks other egregious actions against journalists, including the following examples:
“An Istanbul court in February sentenced four journalists to life in prison without parole for their alleged involvement in plotting the failed 2016 attempted coup, in a case condemned as politically motivated by domestic and international rights organizations. The journalists are Ahmet Altan, chief editor for the now shuttered daily Taraf; Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, both columnists and TV hosts for outlets including the now shuttered Can Erzincan TV and daily Özgür Düşünce; and Fevzi Yazıcı, a layout editor for the shuttered daily Zaman.
“Turkey’s lower courts ignored a ruling issued by the country’s top court in January that Mehmet Altan’s arrest was illegal and the journalist should be released pending a retrial.
Eighteen staff from the independent daily Cumhuriyet, including the paper’s former chief editor and recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award Can Dündar, are on trial over accusations of “helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member” through their work at the newspaper. If convicted, they each face up to 15 years in prison.
Turkey has repeatedly used its broadly-worded anti-terrorism statutes as an excuse to jail journalists, including in the sentencing this month of at least 22 journalists from news outlets that authorities deemed were affiliated with exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, and the ongoing trial of nine journalists and executives from the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. These statutes have routinely been applied as a tool to silence critical, independent, and investigative reporting, CPJ has found.
“As Turkey and the EU work together on a range of important issues, ensuring that the EU meets its commitments to defending fundamental rights must not be a side note. It must be a condition.
“We hope that you will agree that these concerns must be raised during your meeting with President Erdoğan and are happy to provide any additional information you might require to ensure this happens.
“Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.
CPJ Advocacy Director”