Turkey’s media crackdown continues unabated – report

A report released on Thursday by advocacy group Expression Interrupted has underscored the challenges facing independent media organisations in Turkey.

Turkey is one of the most prolific jailers of journalists in the world, demonstrating at once the authoritarianism of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the undying resilience of a country where people continue to report news stories despite the cost.

According to Expression Interrupted, a total of 213 journalists stood trial in Turkey in the first four months of 2021. Of these, 20 were sentenced to a total of 57 years and 10 months in prison. There are now 68 journalists behind bars.

This number represents a fall from the 87 journalists imprisoned in Turkey at the end of 2020, a decline Expression Interrupted said was due to journalists completing their sentences rather than an easing of pressure by authorities.

Notable examples include prominent writer Ahmet Altan, who was released in April after spending nearly four and a half years in jail, and Büşra Erdal, who was similarly freed last month after serving more than four and a half years of a six-year sentence.  

The fall in the number of imprisoned journalists was not matched by a decline in prosecutions, Expression Interrupted said. Alongside the 213 journalists who have so far stood trial this year, 20 others were taken into custody and 16 face new charges.

One of the most significant prosecutions has been against pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, whose former editors and executives Eren Keskin, İnan Kızılkaya, Zana Bilir Kaya and Kemal Sancılı were sentenced to a combined 21 years in jail. In its ruling, the court said the Özgür Gündem defendants had “hidden behind the veil of human rights and human rights advocacy,” according to Expression Interrupted.

Alongside side legal cases, Turkish authorities have also sought to target independent media outlets with financial penalties, the advocacy group said. The Press Advertising Agency (BİK) has repeatedly imposed advertising restrictions on Evrensel and Yeni Asya newspapers, while the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) fined broadcasters Halk TV, TELE1, KRT and FOX TV.  

Expression Interrupted said the attacks on media freedom formed part of a wider crackdown on human and democratic rights, including moves to shut-down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the withdrawal by presidential decree from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, often simply referred to as the Istanbul convention.    

These developments needed to be seen in the context of the democratic decline that accelerated in the aftermath of the failed 2016 coup, the advocacy group added.

Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promising a human rights action plan, “developments in the first months of the year shattered the expectations of any improvements,” it said.

(The full Expression Interrupted report can be read here.)

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