In spite of repeated promises by the government of Turkey that press freedom would be restored in the country following the lifting of the state of emergency this past July, journalists have seen no signs of greater respect for their right to practice their profession independently and without fear of retaliation. This is the gloomy verdict of the high-level press freedom mission conducted by the International Press Institute (IPI) in Turkey this week.
Between December 5 and 7, 2018 an IPI delegation led by Executive Board Chair Markus Spillmann met with representatives of the Turkish Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the heads of the opposition parties CHP and HDP, foreign diplomats, and local journalists in Ankara and Istanbul, and will continue the meetings today. IPI’s persistent efforts to discuss the draconian restrictions on independent, critical voices in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office and representatives of the ruling AKP party did not receive positive responses.
The current crackdown on the media in Turkey, which according to observers started becoming visible already a decade ago, peaked in the months following the failed coup of July 2016, leading to the shutdown of nearly 170 media outlets and criminal charges pressed against hundreds of journalists. Today, 161 journalists are in prison – with many still waiting for trial –, numerous others are facing criminal proceedings, and 95 percent of the media landscape is controlled directly by the government.
According to IPI’s #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign, a majority of journalists jailed or facing prosecution are charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws in connection with their journalistic work.
“We acknowledge the difficulty of the security situation in Turkey and the necessity of implementing the state of emergency after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016”, Spillmann noted. “Nevertheless, we would like to remind Turkey of its international commitments and its duty to create the conditions for a diverse media landscape to exist in the country.”
“The people in Turkey would greatly benefit from re-establishment of an open and lively media environment and the free flow of information in the country”, Spillmann stressed.
IPI further urged Turkey to release the journalists currently held in prison and drop criminal charges against them, which are in serious breach of European and international standards and represent an abuse of the country’s anti-terrorism laws beyond their legitimate purpose.
In meetings with government representatives, the IPI delegation received firm assurances that Turkey highly valued international human rights mechanisms, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and that officials understood the ECtHR’s case law as binding on the country’s judiciary. A high-level representative of the justice ministry further assured IPI that recent rulings by the ECtHR in cases of journalists in prison will be taken into consideration by judges across the country in all similar cases.
IPI member and former BBC Scotland Managing Editor Sandy Bremner, who joined the IPI mission, said: “Government representatives have assured us that Turkey is committed to free speech, basic human rights and the rule of law. Those assurances will only be meaningful when Turkey stops jailing more journalists than any other country in the world, when the justice system is demonstrably fair, and when journalists feel free to ask hard questions of those in power, without fearing for their jobs and their freedom.
“The international community of journalists will not rest until those goals have been achieved”, he added.
The mission delegation consisted of:
Markus Spillmann, IPI Executive Board Chair
Sandy Bremner, IPI member and former BBC Scotland Managing Editor
Barbara Trionfi, IPI Executive Director
Caroline Stockford, IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator
Sanna Pekkonen, Helsingin Sanomat Foundation Journalism Fellow at IPI
IPI is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists dedicated to the protection of press freedom and the promotion of good standards of journalism. IPI has been active in monitoring press freedom violation and fostering independent journalism in Turkey for decades, in cooperation with the IPI Turkey National Committee.