Turkey has been listed as the second country, following China, with the highest number of journalists in jail, according to the annual report of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for the year 2019.
The CPJ’s report, released on Wednesday, said this year’s census marks the first time in four years that Turkey has not been the world’s worst jailer but that the reduced number of prisoners does not signal an improved situation for the Turkish media.
“Rather, the fall to 47 journalists in jail from 68 last year reflects the successful efforts by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stamp out independent reporting and criticism by closing down more than 100 news outlets and lodging terror-related charges against many of their staff,” the report says.
Although the CPJ puts the number of jailed journalists in Turkey at 47, it is estimated that there are close to 200 journalists behind bars in Turkey. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government stepped up a crackdown on journalists and media outlets critical of it in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016.
The report said with the industry gutted by government shutdowns and takeovers, and scores of journalists in exile, jobless, or cowed into self-censorship, the Turkish authorities on Oct. 24 enacted a law that granted new appeals on convictions for certain offenses — including “propaganda for a terrorist organization,” a favorite charge of prosecutors — and shortened some pretrial detention periods.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the failed coup, the Turkish government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the abortive putsch.
The CPJ said dozens of journalists not currently jailed in Turkey are still facing trial or appeal and could yet be sentenced to prison, while others have been sentenced in absentia and face arrest if they return to the country.
One journalist, Semiha Şahin, described to CPJ how she was released to house arrest pending trial but because she was never fitted with an electronic monitoring device, she is effectively free but lives in fear of being caught and returned immediately to prison.
Note: This story is updated.