Rebecca Harms, spokeswoman for foreign affairs and expert on Turkey in the European Parliament’s Greens/EFA group, on Thursday called on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to immediately process the complaints of Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şik against Turkey.
“It is obvious that in the case of Turkey the right to effective domestic remedy is not guaranteed,” said Harms in a written statement following the ruling of an Istanbul court for 14 Cumhuriyet daily journalists who were accused of supporting the faith-based Gülen movement.
Veteran journalist Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnist Aydın Engin were given seven years, six months, while Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay was sentenced to seven years, three months, 15 days. Publisher Orhan Erinç and columnist Hikmet Çetinkaya got six years, three months and editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel two years, six months. Three other Cumhuriyet employees, Önder Çelik, Hakan Kara, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, received three years, nine months in prison.
Underlining that harsh penalties for journalists aim to deter, Harms in her statement said:
“Surprisingly the judges in Silivri have passed a sentence in the Cumhuriyet process already yesterday. Even though Akin Atalay has been released and for now none of the defendants have to go back to jail, the convictions and announced prison sentences of up to 7 years are very harsh.
“The detailed opinion hasn’t been published yet, but it is clear that journalists and employees of Turkey’s oldest independent newspaper have been convicted because they have done their work to the best of their knowledge and conscience,” added Harms.
“This way journalism becomes a crime. The judgment is another frightening sign that the Turkish judiciary has abandoned the protection of fundamental rights, which inalienably include the freedom of the press. The sentences exacerbate the pressure on journalists in Turkey who still dare to work independently.”
Turkey, which has jailed more than 250 journalists and media workers, is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) show that 259 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 21, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 200 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 141 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets after the coup attempt.