ISTANBUL (Hurriyet Daily News)—Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world, including China and Iran, according to a press release issued Monday by the International Press Institute.
The group based its release on a report published by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, that said 57 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey. As of December, Iran and China each had 34 journalists behind bars.
“While Iran and China topped lists in December by reportedly jailing some 34 journalists each, Turkey, a candidate for membership in the European Union, has nearly doubled that number five months later, raising questions about the country’s commitment to freedom of the press and the legitimacy of its democratic image,” IPI Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis wrote in an article featured on the institute’s website.
Daily Radikal meanwhile reported in its Friday edition that Aziz Özer, chief executive officer for the monthly culture and literature magazine Güney (South), had been sentenced to 1.5 years in prison because of a short story and a caricature he published that were determined to constitute “making propaganda” for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The implementation of the sentence was not suspended.
In its report, the IPI also noted the case of journalist Nedim Şener, an IPI World Press Freedom Hero who was arrested recently on accusations of being a member of the alleged Ergenekon coup-plot gang. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on media freedom, who commissioned the report, called upon Turkish authorities to bring the standards of press freedom in Turkey up to meet its OSCE commitments.
The IPI also drew attention to the fact that there are between 700 and 1,000 ongoing cases in Turkey that could result in the imprisonment of more journalists.
“The sheer number of cases poses fundamental questions about the legal provisions governing journalism in Turkey and raises concerns that the number of journalists in prison could further increase,” said Mijatovic.
The report conceded that governments do have a legitimate need to fight terrorism, but stressed that the notion of national security should not be used as a basis to curb press freedom. The IPI noted that most of the arrested journalists were taken into custody either under Turkey’s anti-terror law or for alleged crimes under the criminal code’s prohibitions on “founding, leading or becoming a member of an armed organization for the purpose of committing certain offenses.”
The report also noted the extremely long sentences requested by for journalists. Ibrahim Çiçek and Bayram Namaz from Atılım newspaper, for example, each face up to 3,000 years in prison.
“These journalists are in jail because of Turkey’s anti-terror Law. This law threatens the freedom of press, and investigative journalists live under its menace. We find this unacceptable. We made a request to the government to change this law, but unfortunately the government does not lend an ear to professional journalist associations,” said Ferai Tınç, the chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee and an IPI board member.
“Turkey, at the crossroads between East and West, is a major regional power with an ancient cultural heritage. The country is also often held up as an example of a healthy Muslim democracy,” said IPI director Alison Bethel McKenzie, who warned that moving away from this history and imprisoning more journalists than any other country is damaging.
McKenzie also called on the Turkish government to respect press freedom and release all journalists who have been detained because of their work.