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Turkish Journalism Behind Bars

VIENNA – In a study released in early April, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, reported that 57 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey, mostly on the basis of the country’s anti-terrorism laws. With 11 more Turkish journalists also facing charges, the total number could soon double the records of Iran and China, each of which reportedly held 34 journalists in prison in December 2010. Indeed, Mijatović estimated that another 700-1,000 proceedings against journalists remain ongoing.

Such a situation is intolerable anywhere, but particularly in a democracy that seeks European Union membership, and that recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Turkey’s behavior thus calls into question not only its desire but also its ability to commit to the values underlying the EU.

Journalists linked to Kurdish or Marxist organizations have regularly been targeted under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws, and the OSCE study found that they have faced some of the harshest punishments. One Kurdish journalist was sentenced to 166 years in prison. Others currently face – wait for it – 3,000-year sentences if convicted.

The relative lack of scrutiny of Turkey’s treatment of journalists by many in the West has changed, however, owing to the recent waves of arrests in the so-called “Ergenekon” case. Numerous military officers and academics have been implicated in that case, which involves an alleged plot by secular ultra-nationalists to overthrow the Turkish government. The probe has now turned increasingly towards journalists.