Turkey jailing more journalists than any other country: Report

Press freedom activists read opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet during a demonstration outside a courthouse, in Istanbul in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 21 November 2019

Turkey jailing more journalists than any other country: Report

  • Currently, 122 are behind bars — mostly on terror-related charges — in the country

ANKARA: Turkey jails more journalists then any other country, according to a new report on the status of press freedom there launched by international press freedom groups on Monday.

The report, “Turkey’s Journalists in the Dock: The Judicial Silencing of the Fourth Estate,” was prepared in collaboration with eight international press freedom and journalism organizations based on their mission visit to Turkey in September during which they met public authorities as well as Turkish civil society groups and journalists.

There are currently 122 journalists behind bars in Turkey, mostly on terrorism-related charges. Those who are released have travel bans. This makes Turkey the top jailer of journalists in the world.

“Critical journalism has been conflated with terrorist propaganda, all part of a campaign to silence opposition voices and close down free speech,” the report said, adding that the politically motivated crackdown against the media also severely damaged the rule of law and people’s right to access critical and balanced information and news.

The report is the fruit of the collaboration between IPI, ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Norwegian PEN, and PEN International.

The organizations called on Ankara to release all imprisoned journalists, to end the indiscriminate harassment of the press, to review anti-terror and defamation laws, as well as to end political interference in the judiciary.

“The mission recognizes the terrorist threat in Turkey but rejects arguments made by the Supreme Court of Cassation that this justifies exceptional measures outside ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) jurisprudence and that fundamental freedoms need to be compromised in the name of security. The state’s actions clearly demonstrate that the existence of a terrorist threat is being instrumentalized to serve an indiscriminate crackdown on critical voices,” the report said.

BACKGROUND

There are currently 122 journalists behind bars in Turkey, mostly on terrorism-related charges. Those who are released have travel bans. This makes Turkey the top jailer of journalists in the world.

The latest legislative changes restricting online broadcasting are also criticized in the report as an attempt by the state to regulate all online activities.

The problems in the accreditation of journalists and the government-regulated system of issuing press cards was another point of criticism. Over the past three years, thousands of applications were rejected by officials, while hundreds of press cards were removed over alleged security reasons. This is seen as a move to restrict the work of foreign correspondents in the country.

“The increased use of travel bans to harass journalists and activists, including their family, is a further area of concern. After the lifting of the state of emergency in 2018, the authorities have continued to seize and hold the passports of individuals that oppose or are perceived to oppose the government,” the report said.

In September, two Turkish journalists from US-based Bloomberg News faced up to five years in prison over a financial report about the country’s economic problems.

On Nov. 12, Ahmet Altan, a well-known novelist and journalist who was released from prison only a week before, after being detained for more than three years, was taken back into custody.

Scott Griffen, deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of journalists and editors defending media freedom since 1950, said that independent journalism and press freedom were under attack in Turkey.

“Although press freedom has been under pressure for years, the current crackdown began with the July 2016 coup attempt and the arrests and prosecution of hundreds of journalists. The situation has not improved since then,” he told Arab News.

According to Griffen, this creates a situation not only in which journalists are deprived of their freedom, but also in which many journalists are forced to self-censor to avoid personal, professional and legal consequences.

Under a mainstream media environment that is almost totally under governmental control, Griffen thinks that there is still room for alternative news options in Turkey.

“Many journalists who lost their jobs after their media outlets were bought by pro-government figures are now working for alternative online media or have found a home with foreign media. Up until now, they have represented one of the last remaining sources of free expression in Turkey and reflect a demand among the public for independent news,” he said.

But, Griffen added, as long as these media are doing their role of scrutinizing the government, it makes them a target.

As Turkey is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, by its own constitution on freedom of expression as well as the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the application of anti-terror laws, Griffen also noted that courts and prosecutors are not respecting the constitution.

“Turkish officials have claimed to us that the country faces a unique terror threat that justifies a state of exception from international law and standards on freedom of expression. But the case law of the European Court of Human Rights is fully capable of handling this problem, it is simply not being applied by the courts in Turkey,” he said.

“Only speech that directly incites violence or acts of terror should face criminal sanction under anti-terrorism law. But Turkey’s justice system is abusing anti-terror law to punish dissent, in disregard of all international standards,” he said.


Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 12 min 39 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”