News / Europe

Ankara Under Fire for Journalists' Treatment

A ferry sail in the Bosporus transports people from Istanbul's Asian side to the European side, Turkey, November 2011.
A ferry sail in the Bosporus transports people from Istanbul's Asian side to the European side, Turkey, November 2011.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists says Turkey -- long seen as a model of democracy in the Middle East -- is the world's leading jailer of journalists.

A report released Monday says Turkey currently has 76 journalists behind bars. CPJ says it has confirmed that at least 61 of them are detained in direct connection with their work.

Turkey's total puts it ahead of Iran, Eritrea, and China -- three countries more well known for curbing media freedom.

“Turkey has a legal problem,” said Nina Ognianova, an analyst with CPJ. “According to local groups, at the end of last year, 2011, there had been between 3,000 and 5,000 pending cases - criminal cases - against journalists on a variety of charges that stretch from insulting ‘Turkishness’ to trying to influence the outcome of a trial.”

Ognianova said the prosecutions, as well as imprisonment of journalists, are possible because of vaguely written Turkish laws against terrorism that can be misused by authorities.

Last week the European Union strongly criticized Turkey in its annual report on the progress of prospective EU members. The EU said "increasing concerns" about court cases against reporters endanger Turkey's bid for membership.

The rights group International Federation of Journalists, which also tracks the number of journalists in Turkish prisons, says writers are detained mainly because they cover issues deemed by the government to be controversial.

The Turkish government says the journalists are being held for crimes such as supporting conspiracies against the government or “aiding terrorists” by publishing detailed articles on national security issues, such as the Kurdish insurgency.

Government demands

Last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that Turkish media stop covering Kurdish issues, saying coverage of the Kurdish separatist movement turns the media into a platform for separatist propaganda.

Ahmet Şik is a freelance journalist who spent 13 months in prison with a colleague for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

After intense international pressure on Ankara to free them, the two men were released in April, although they still face charges. Şik said he and his colleague were jailed because the topics they covered embarrassed the government.

But Şik said detention is not the only method the government uses to curb journalists. Some reporters have been fired, demoted, or subjected to public embarrassment.

“By illegal means, either by sex tapes or phone tapping recordings, they are undermined, made victims of a smearing,” Şik said.

Şik suspects he was detained because of a book he was writing on police corruption.

Şik’s colleague, Nedim Şener, wrote two books detailing the 2007 assassination of a prominent journalist, Hrant Dink.

Şener said his phones were tapped after he published a book in 2009 accusing the government of involvement in the Dink murder. He says that the official reason for his arrest is a trumped up conspiracy charge.

“The stories I covered disturbed the state,” he said.

State pressure

The state pressure also extends to media conglomerates.

The Dogan Media Group, which owns print, online, and broadcast outlets, including CNN Turk and TNT, has been criticized by Erdogan for publishing stories critical of the government.

At two political rallies in February 2009, Erdogan called on the public to boycott Dogan newspapers, saying they carried “incorrect news.”

Days later, the Dogan Group was slapped with a crippling tax fine of more than $3 billion, forcing the company to sell off many of its assets in an attempt to stay afloat.

A representative for Dogan wrote in an e-mail that the tax fine issue has been resolved but added: “We don’t want to talk about it.”

Turkish leaders defend the government's actions against the press.

Questioned by CNN in September, Erdogan said he welcomes criticism, but added he will not tolerate insults toward himself or his family. He said he filed defamation lawsuits against some of his critics but later withdrew them.

US dilemma

The U.S. treads a fine line in dealing with its ally, Turkey, on media freedom issues.

The U.S. ambassador, Frances Ricciardone said that media freedom “remains a mixed picture” in Turkey. He said the number of journalists in jail creates a “chilling effect” that calls the state of freedom of expression into question.

Meanwhile, those pressing for more media freedom in Turkey say international pressure is keeping the government from further crackdowns on journalists.

Sik and Sener said their release was triggered by popular support. Sik said that he has “close witnesses” who say Erdogan issued a special order for their release.

The Turkish government did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, many of Sik and Sener’s colleagues remain detained.

Sik has a fresh indictment issued against him for "threatening and defaming civil servants in their duties."

The Turkish government says Sik's public comments, made as he emerged from prison, contain allegations that could tarnish the honor of the officials he criticized.

Like other Turkish journalists under fire, he appears to have another long legal battle ahead of him.

You May Like

Photogallery Pakistani Offensive Empties Largest Town in North Waziristan

Army commander says troops have found about a dozen bomb-making facilities, underground network of tunnels; troops must clear huge amount of IEDs More

Video Israel, Hamas Trade Blame, Dig in

Both sides blame each other for provoking conflict, neither side at this point is ready to back down More

US: Cooperation with Germany Important Despite Spying Fallout

Refusing to comment on 'purported intelligence matter', White House spokeswoman says administration 'will continue to be in touch with German government in appropriate channels' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sanjay Gupta from: India
October 12, 2012 1:26 PM
I can't believe how many people told the Turkies in the comments here that NATO will not help them... and, that the Europeans and Russians actually hate and despise them... I read this article in this light... some of the people who make comments here are really really good - thank you

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Restored Papyrus Swamps Can Help Fight Pollution, Conserve Wateri
X
Faiza Elmasry
July 10, 2014 5:18 PM
Papyrus is a light but strong reed that grows well in shallow, fresh water. The plant stood at the center of the ancient Egyptian civilization. It was used as paper and the reed's shape inspired the fluted columns of ancient Greece. Most of the papyrus swamps gradually disappeared from Egypt and other parts of Africa. As VOA's Faiza Elmasry discovered, though, restoring the papyrus swamps could hold the key to solve many of today’s problems, from pollution to water wars. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Restored Papyrus Swamps Can Help Fight Pollution, Conserve Water

Papyrus is a light but strong reed that grows well in shallow, fresh water. The plant stood at the center of the ancient Egyptian civilization. It was used as paper and the reed's shape inspired the fluted columns of ancient Greece. Most of the papyrus swamps gradually disappeared from Egypt and other parts of Africa. As VOA's Faiza Elmasry discovered, though, restoring the papyrus swamps could hold the key to solve many of today’s problems, from pollution to water wars. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Virginia Site Tests Drones for FAA Rules

Blacksburg, a college town in southwestern Virginia, is one of six locations chosen by the FAA - the Federal Aviation Administration - to test drones. Researchers are sending feedback to the FAA as the agency develops national drone regulations. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti traveled to the town to check what’s up in the air there.
Video

Video Israel, Hamas Trade Blame, Dig in

The military conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, continues to escalate. As VOA’s Brian Padden reports, both sides blame each other for provoking the conflict and neither side at this point is ready to back down.
Video

Video Civilians Fear Mideast Violence Could Turn Into Full-Scale War

Violence in the Middle East is escalating at a time when there are no new peace talks in sight. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have condemned the brutal deaths of three Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian teen, and have vowed to punish those responsible. But both sides also seem to be gearing up for more fighting. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video African-born Pastor Brings ‘Holy Laughter’ Revival to Washington

A South African-born televangelist based in Florida has brought his ministry to Washington for a three-week event he is calling “Celebrate America.” Rodney Howard-Browne is calling for a religious revival in the United States. But as VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports, his preaching style is far from mainstream.
Video

Video American Roadside Attraction 'Dinosaur Land' Lures Visitors

A big part of the American landscape of the middle 20th century was the roadside attraction - small zoos, amusement parks or quirky museums along the highways families traveled on their way to vacation destinations. Most of those attractions are gone, but one in Virginia, a couple of hours from Washington, called Dinosaur Land, is still going strong.
Video

Video Burma Football Friendly Brings Together Battlefield Opponents

As most of Myanmar’s ethnic armies maintain a fragile ceasefire with the government, some of the troops were able to let off a little steam, World Cup - style. Steve Sandford reports from Karen State, Myanmar, also known as Burma, on a peace initiative aimed at building trust between the opposing sides of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
Video

Video FIFA’s Football for Hope Tournament Kicks Off in Brazil

As excitement builds toward the final matches of football's (soccer's) World Cup, another competition has kicked-off in Brazil. The Football for Hope Festival brings together underprivileged young people from around the world for an event that is less about winning than about enjoying the game and one another. Scott Bobb reports from Rio de Janeiro.

AppleAndroid