Reporters Without Borders

Turkey – world's biggest prison for journalists

Turkey – world’s biggest prison for journalists

Published on Wednesday 19 December 2012. Updated on Thursday 20 December 2012.
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Coinciding with the publication of its annual roundup, Reporters Without Borders is releasing the findings of the investigation it has conducted in recent months into journalists imprisoned in Turkey.

“With a total of 72 media personnel currently detained, of whom at least 42 journalists and four media assistants are being held in connection with their media work, Turkey is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists – a sad paradox for a country that portrays itself a regional democratic model,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The number of detained journalists is unprecedented since the end of military rule but is not surprising given the Turkish judicial system’s structural problems – very repressive legislation with broad and vaguely-worded provisions that allow all kinds of excesses, and markedly paranoid judicial attitudes that prioritize security concerns to the detriment of defence rights and freedom of information.

“Most of the imprisoned journalists are representatives of Kurdish media, a situation that again underscores the fact that freedom of information in Turkey is inextricably linked with the search for a peaceful solution to the issue of its Kurdish minority.

“The Turkish authorities have apparently begun to appreciate the scale of the problem. The so-called ‘third judicial reform package’ (Law 6352 of July 2012) has led in recent months to the conditional release of about fifteen journalists, some of whom had been in prison for years. But their cases are only suspended and an even bigger number of journalists are still waiting to be released.

“Worse still, there has hardly been any let-up in the pace with which more journalists are being arrested, jailed and brought to trial. This was seen yet again last week, when Sadiye Eser, a journalist with the left-wing daily Evrensel, was arrested. According to our tally, at least 61 journalists have been arrested in 2012.

“Although Turkey’s media landscape is extensive and diversified, critical and investigative journalism is often criminalized – a tendency that has been reinforced by a renewed increase in tension surrounding the Kurdish issue. Only a complete overhaul of the anti-terrorism law and the repeal of about 20 repressive articles in the criminal code will be able to address this.

“These legislative reforms will have to be accompanied by changes in judicial practices in line with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights – meaning much less use of preventive detention, respect for the right to information on subjects of public interest, protection for journalists’ sources and a more independent and transparent judicial system.”

Method of analysis

The list of imprisoned journalists presented below was compiled according to the procedures of the Reporters Without Borders “Press freedom barometer,” which uses a precise method that is the same for all countries and requires detailed analysis of each case.

Journalists, media assistants and netizens were added to the list only when it was established that they were imprisoned in connection with their journalistic activities. To determine this, Reporters Without Borders considered the judicial proceedings (prosecution and defence case files and questions asked during interrogation) and the context (stories covered by the journalist, the existence of any prior dispute and the political context).

Decisive factors in most of the cases listed below included weakness of the charges, absence of hard evidence, unjustified prolongation of preventive detention and a readiness to regard normal journalistic work – such as interviewing well-known persons being prosecuted, receiving documents from outlawed organizations or covering peaceful demonstrations – as an illegal activity.

Journalists listed in the “Press freedom barometer” are not the only ones defended by Reporters Without Borders. A journalist’s omission from the list does not constitute a presumption of guilt any more than presence on the list necessarily constitutes recognition of complete innocence.

Rather than try to replace the judicial system, Reporters Without Borders is just saying whether it thinks detention is appropriate. In the light of the available information, it calls for the withdrawal of the charges against the journalist in some cases or a conditional release followed by a fair trial in others.

Several factors make investigating the cases of imprisoned journalists particularly difficult in Turkey. One is the judicial system’s slowness and lack of transparency. Most of them spend months or sometimes years in detention before learning what they are charged with. Detainees, their families and lawyers are not always given access to the entire case file.

Another major obstacle is the marked politicization of the media and the widespread assumption that they have absolutely no autonomy. This hangover from recent history affects not only the work of journalists but also the judicial system. Prosecutors and judges are quick to equate editorializing with political activism and even terrorism.

There are countless examples of comments to this effect by politicians. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused a stir in 2011 when he likened an unpublished book by the journalist Ahmet Sik to a “bomb.” But interior minister Idris Naim Sahin went even further in December 2011 when he said that “painting (…), poetry and various writings” could constitute terrorist acts.

As a result, the Turkish judicial system often conducts a political analysis instead of a legal and judicial one. If journalists are critical of the government in their coverage of the Kurdish issue, for example, prosecutors and judges tend to conclude that they therefore share the views of the Kurdistan Workers Party and must be guilty of membership of this armed separatist organization.

Reporters Without Borders urges the judicial system to respect international conventions ratified by Turkey that stipulate that freedom of expression may be limited in such circumstances only when it explicitly incites hatred or violence. At the same time, the Council of Europe and the OSCE discourage the use of imprisonment to punish abuses of freedom of expression as it has an intimidatory effect.

Reporters Without Borders urges Turkey’s courts to immediately release all journalists and media assistants who have been imprisoned in connection with their work, and stands ready to talk with the authorities about the measures that should be taken to address the roots of this problem

It also requests the cooperation of lawyers, relatives and colleagues of journalists whose cases are still being investigated, so that it can obtain the additional information it needs.

Read RWB report: “Media and justice in Turkey – mistrust and repression” (June 2011)

Journalists imprisoned in connection with their work:

• Bayram Namaz • Füsun Erdogan • Hikmet Ciçek • Tuncay Özkan • Mustafa Balbay • Soner Yalçin • Yalçin Küçük • Turan Özlü • Hasan Özgünes • Tayip Temel • Cengiz Kapmaz • Abdullah Cetin • Ayse Oyman • Cagdas Kaplan • Dilek Demirel • Ertus Bozkurt • Fatma Koçak • Hüseyin Deniz • Ismail Yildiz • Kenan Kirkaya • Mazlum Özdemir • Mehmet Emin Yildirim • Nahide Ermis • Nevin Erdemir • Nilgün Yildiz • Nurettin Firat • Ömer Celik • Ömer Ciftçi • Ramazan Pekgöz • Sadik Topaloglu • Selahattin Aslan • Semiha Alankus • Sibel Güler • Yüksek Genç • Zeynep Kuray • Ziya Ciçekçi • Zuhal Tekiner • Deniz Yildirim • Turabi Kisin • Özlem Agus • Zeynep Kuris • Sadiye Eser

Media assistants imprisoned in connection with their work:

• Pervin Yerlikaya • Saffet Orman • Cigdem Aslan • Irfan Bilgiç

Imprisoned journalists and media assistants whose cases are still being investigated:

• Ali Konar • Faysal Tunç • Ferhat Ciftçi • Hamit Dilbahar • Kenan Karavil • Murat Ilhan • Nuri Yesil • Ömer Faruk Caliskan • Sevcan Atak • Seyithan Akyüz • Sahabettin Demir • Ahmet Birsin • Sebahattin Sürmeli • Ferhat Arslan • Sultan Saman • Bahar Kurt • Musa Kurt • Mustafa Gök • Erdal Süsem • Hatice Duman • Hakan Soytemiz • Erol Zavar • Miktat Algül • Sükrü Sak • Mehmet Haberal

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