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Turkey’s leading press union puts number of jailed journalists at 21

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The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) has announced that the number of journalists and media professionals in the country’s prisons currently stands at 21, although another press organization cites a higher number.

According to a statement from the TGS, although Turkey saw a decline in the number of jailed journalists several years ago, the arrest of the journalists has gained momentum over the past year.

Turkey saw the arrest of a number of journalists working for anti-government or pro-Kurdish media outlets, particularly before the parliamentary and presidential elections in May, which was interpreted as an attempt by the government to silence its critics. Many said the arrest of the journalists prevented the elections from being held in a free and fair environment.

The arrest of journalists has continued since the elections. The last journalists to be jailed were Merdan Yanardağ, the editor-in-chief of TELE1, and former Oda TV editor-in-chief Barış Pehlivan.

Yanardağ, who was arrested on June 27, faces a prison sentence ranging from one and a half to 10 and a half years on charges of “praising crime and a criminal” as well as “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” on the grounds that he criticized some jail restrictions imposed on outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan and said they lacked legal ground.

Pehlivan was jailed on Tuesday to serve a prison sentence of almost four years on charges of exposing classified intelligence documents due to his coverage of the funeral of a Turkish intelligence officer in Libya.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, eliminating media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

Since the failed coup when journalists were subjected to mass arrests due to bogus coup or terrorism charges, local and international press organizations release different figures regarding the number of the jailed journalists in the country.

According to the Expression Interrupted platform, the number of the jailed journalists in Turkey is 43.

Some journalists who were arrested in the aftermath of the coup attempt and convicted of terror-related charges have been released from prison after serving their sentences.

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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