Turkey’s Imprisoned Press

PARIS – According to two pro-government newspapers in Turkey, Star and Yeni Akit, as well as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself, those who denounce the state of press freedom in Turkey are “terrorists.” That is the term that they were using last week to denounce the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières, both of which have issued reports saying that Turkey has imprisoned even more journalists than Iran and China.

Last October, the CPJ reported that there were 76 journalists imprisoned in Turkey, including 61 who were in jail for their journalistic work. While the latter number declined to 49 by December, after some of those held were freed by the courts, that is still a lot of journalists to hold in prison.

The situation is especially dismaying, given that, for several years, Turkey’s human-rights performance had been improving dramatically under Erdoğan’s leadership. The use of torture had declined sharply. The cultural rights of the large Kurdish minority, including the right to use their own language, had advanced greatly. Military control over the civilian government had been ended. And more.

Yet, as Erdoğan and his moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party have consolidated their power and their control of the country, their tolerance for dissent has declined. Today, Internet freedom has largely disappeared. Legislation provides for mandatory filtering of content, and many Web sites have been blocked for reasons that range from facilitating the use of drugs or stimulants to offenses under the Law on Crimes against Atatürk (the founder of the modern Turkish state and Turkey’s national hero).