Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has again made it onto a list of “press freedom predators” published by Reporters without Borders (RSF) that includes 37 heads of state or government who crack down substantially on press freedom.
Erdoğan was on the same list published by RSF in 2016.
For each of the predators, RSF compiled a file identifying their “predatory method,” how they censor and persecute journalists and their “favorite targets” –- the kinds of journalists and media outlets they go after. The file also includes quotations from speeches or interviews in which they “justify” their predatory behavior and their country’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index.
“Turkey’s president does not like the media, or rather, he likes the media to be submissive and docile and to sing his praises. He persecutes critics with the help of a law under which they can be prosecuted for ‘insulting the president’ and broad terrorism legislation that allows every kind of abuse. By various political and economic means, he also controls almost all the leading media groups (especially TV channels),” RSF writes in Erdoğan’s profile with a note reminding that he has been a predator since 2009.
Turkey ranks 153rd on a list of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
RSF describes Erdoğan’s predatory method as aggressive democracy.
According to RSF, a state of emergency declared in July 2016 following a failed coup gave Erdoğan the opportunity to arrest unprecedented numbers of journalists and to close more than 100 newspapers, magazines, TV channels and radio stations.
“A few courts, including the constitutional court, the court of cassation and the Council of State, have managed to put [up] some resistance. But the deteriorated climate encourages violence against journalists. More than 100 have been physically attacked in the past five years and one, who worked for a radio station in the city of Bursa, was killed by a listener,” said RSF.
According to Erdoğan’s profile, whether left-wing, pro-Kurdish, pro-Gülen, secularist or nationalist –- any journalist or media outlet regarded as critical of him is liable to be prosecuted.
Turkey’s post-coup crackdown targeted mainly news outlets and journalists affiliated with the Gülen movement as Erdoğan’s government accused the faith-based group of masterminding the failed coup on July 15, 2016 despite a denial from the movement. Some of the journalists who were arrested in the post-coup crackdown have begun to be released after serving their sentences.
RSF said even if Turkey is no longer the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, the risk of imprisonment and the fear of having to work under judicial control or being stripped of one’s passport are still ubiquitous.
“Around 50 journalists were briefly arrested in 2020 in connection with their coverage of the situation of Syrian refugees at the border with Greece or the Covid-19 pandemic. Any online reporting that reflects badly on prominent people close to the government is also routinely censored. More than 1,300 links to online articles (about corruption, clientelism and the like) were blocked in 2020 by magistrates under Erdoğan’s thumb.”
RSF also included a quote from Erdoğan in which he denies cracking down on the press freedom in Turkey.
“We have never done anything against freedom of expression or media freedom. On the contrary, the press in Turkey has criticized me a great deal, me and my government, and have attacked me a great deal. And despite these attacks, we have been very patient in the way we have responded to these attacks,” Erdoğan said in an interview with CNN in April 2016.
Among the press freedom predators on the RSF list are President of Egypt Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, Islamic Republic of Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad, King of Bahrain Hamed bin Isa Al Khalifa, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohamed bin Salman.
“There are now 37 leaders from around the world in RSF’s predators of press freedom gallery and no one could say this list is exhaustive,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “Each of these predators has their own style. Some impose a reign of terror by issuing irrational and paranoid orders. Others adopt a carefully constructed strategy based on draconian laws. A major challenge now is for these predators to pay the highest possible price for their oppressive behavior. We must not let their methods become the new normal.”