OSCE’s Désir calls on Turkey to release Zaman journalists

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OSCE's Harlem Desir

Harlem Désir, representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), has called on Turkey to release all journalists behind bars.

“As the trial of several former Zaman journalists continues today in Istanbul, including journalists #AhmetTuranAlkan and #ŞahinAlpay, I reiterate my call to #Turkey to ensure respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the media and to free all imprisoned journalists,” Desir tweeted on Thursday.

Eleven former columnists and editors of the now-closed Zaman daily appeared at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Thursday and Friday. The journalists face charges of violating the Constitution, membership in a terrorist organization, disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization and aiding a terrorist organization.

Former Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Ali Bulaç, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Mümtazer Türköne, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Nuriye Ural, Zaman editors Mehmet Özdemir and İbrahim Karayeğen and Zaman Ankara representative Mustafa Ünal were scheduled to deliver their final defenses on Friday.

A high criminal court in the western Turkish province of Uşak on Thursday ruled for the continuation of the arrest of former Zaman daily columnist Ali Ünal, who was jailed in the aftermath of a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

The Zaman daily, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was closed down along with dozens of other media outlets due to their links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the coup attempt.

Désir also on April 26 tweeted: “i insisted: in #Turkey, 2 years after the coup attempt, the situation is far from return to normal. Nothing can justify that so many journalists are still behind bars or indicted under baseless and false accusations,” adding, “I call on #Turkey to reconsider the situation of all concerned journalists and to release them without waiting for another decision by European Court of Human Rights which already ruled against detention of several Turkish journalists.”

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 on April 26 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

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 in July 2016.

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