Journalism in Turkey has become synonymous with death, arrest, joblessness and many other risks, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) vice chair Tayip Temel said on Monday in a statement on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Kronos news website reported.
In 1993 the UN General Assembly proclaimed May 3 as World Press Freedom Day following a recommendation adopted at the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.
Temel said since the adoption of May 3 as World Press Freedom Day by the UN, Turkey has moved further away from press freedom.
Underlining that Turkey was ranked 153rd among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in April, Temel claimed that torture, human rights violations, war crimes, corruption and femicides are being covered up in the country as is the case with many other authoritarian regimes, and that the most efficient way to achieve this end is to silence the press.
On the same day a court released two defendants who were arrested for their physical assault on journalist Levent Gültekin, who was attacked by a group of about two dozen people after he criticized Alparslan Türkeş, founder of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Police detained three suspects a week after the attack, and two of them were arrested pending trial.
One out of every four journalists was subjected to physical violence, and half of them received threats in 2020, a report released in February by the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) said.
Turkey remains one of the world’s top jailers of journalists, writers, and intellectuals, according to a report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, citing recent indexes and reports released by prominent right organizations.
Turkey, along with China and Saudi Arabia, topped PEN America’s list of the world’s worst jailers of writers and public intellectuals. The top three jailers accounted for a majority of cases, 50 percent, though that number is down from 59 percent in 2019.
According to PEN America, the environment for free expression in Turkey remains extremely challenging, with new laws and regulations narrowing the space for dissent and public intellectuals.
The Council of Europe’s (CoE) annual report, “Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists,” called on Turkish authorities to cease all actions aimed at blocking or criminalizing independent reporting and take steps to restore judicial independence.
Turkish journalists face an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment, driven by the authorities’ intention to thwart critical reporting, which is exacerbated by the context of a lack of prosecutorial and judicial independence and impartiality, the CoE report said, adding that a high number of verbal attacks against journalists were made by Turkish officials during 2020.
According to RSF, the government controls 90 percent of the Turkish media by means of regulators, while the Press Advertising Council, an agency that allocates state advertising, and the Presidential Directorate for Communications, which issues press cards, “use clearly discriminatory practices in order to marginalise and criminalise the regime’s media critics.”
In its annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) underlined that the number of journalists jailed for their reporting in 2020 reached the highest level since the organization began keeping track, with Turkey, the People’s Republic of China, and Egypt imprisoning the most reporters last year.
“Protests and political tensions were a catalyst for many arrests,” CPJ said.
Amid the declining press freedom in Turkey, a report drafted by Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Utku Çakırözer, also a former journalist, showed that nearly 150 journalists appeared before a judge in March and April.
In March Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a CHP lawmaker and rights advocate, requested a parliamentary inquiry into physical assaults that have targeted critical journalists in Turkey during the 18-year rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), adding that it is also important to reveal the number of journalists who have been killed in the country in the same period.
Tanrıkulu also cited the claim that the ruling AKP was ordering attacks targeting dissident journalists and politicians in order to intimidate them, which is based on the government’s policy of impunity that has protected a considerable number of the assailants so far.
“[Many] journalists have been sent to prison in Turkey, and the AKP’s politically motivated operations have left nearly 10,000 members of the press in the country unemployed. Hundreds of critical press outlets have been shut down, and journalists who refuse to serve as government mouthpieces have been attacked,” Tanrıkulu further stated.
The Turkish government increased its crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, following which dozens of journalists were jailed, while more than 200 media outlets were closed down under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.