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Turkish Journalist to Appeal 2-Year Jail Term

FILE - Turkish broadcast journalist Sedef Kabas speaks to the media after her trial on Oct. 6, 2015, in Istanbul.
FILE - Turkish broadcast journalist Sedef Kabas speaks to the media after her trial on Oct. 6, 2015, in Istanbul.

An Istanbul court on Friday sentenced Turkish journalist Sedef Kabas to more than two years in prison for insulting the president.

Kabas has been in pretrial detention since late January over comments she made about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a political talk show. She is now released pending the outcome of her appeal.

The freelance journalist tops the March list of most urgent media freedom cases published by the One Free Press Coalition.

The coalition, made up of dozens of media outlets and nonprofits, focused on Kabas and nine other female journalists to raise awareness of the risks women encounter.

All those featured have been attacked or threated because of their work. Some, like Kabas and Nobel Peace laureate Maria Ressa, are fighting court cases.

Of the 293 journalists in prison for their work globally in December, 40 are women, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The New York-based press freedom group releases an annual snapshot of those in custody for journalism each year.

The bigger risk for female journalists, however, is online threats and abuse.

Ressa, who founded the Philippine news website Rappler, and Washington Post columnist and freelance reporter Rana Ayyub, who also appears on the March list, have both experienced extreme online harassment and trolling for their journalism.

“This is a threat to press freedom,” said Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF). “Women journalists need to be able to report freely online without fear, without self-censorship, without worrying that their private information is going to be revealed, without threats against their families.”

About a third of female journalists say they considered changing careers because of threats, according to the IWMF, which along with VOA is part of the One Free Press Coalition.

A survey in 2020 of journalists who identify as women found over 70% reported experiencing online violence. The joint report was compiled by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists.

A fifth of respondents said they experienced attacks or abuse in connection with harassment that started online.

“We're glad that we're able to highlight the cases of women on this day because they are out there suffering the same things that men are suffering but with the added impediment of being targeted because of their gender,” Muñoz told VOA, referring to International Women’s Day, marked on March 8.

The IWMF has noted an increase in online attacks against female journalists.

“One very stark trend is the amount of attacks that women journalists are receiving online and how much more difficult it's becoming for women journalists to do their jobs without being assaulted day in and day out, with some of the most vile and horrible messages that you can imagine,” Muñoz said.

Attacks and attempts to discredit or diminish the work of female journalists has an impact on news coverage, Muñoz said.

“The lens through which we have been learning about the world for the past several decades and even centuries, has come from the perspective of men and usually men in power,” Muñoz said. “It's really important that we hear the news from a different perspective and from the very people who are experiencing their communities firsthand."

For now in Turkey, Kabas is free pending the outcome of her appeal.

“I am happy that she is released, but her conviction saddens me,” her lawyer Uğur Poyraz told reporters after the hearing.

Poyraz added that as long as a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling against Turkey’s insult laws stands, “any decision to convict in these cases, whether in the case of Sedef Kabas or other cases, is null and void.”

The ECHR in October said Turkey’s insult law should be changed. It added that the high number of detentions under the legislation indicates that it violates freedom of expression.

More than 160,000 investigations were launched on suspicion of insults to Erdogan since 2014, the year he became president, Reuters reported. Of those, more than 12,880 resulted in convictions.

The ECHR said Turkey's law should be amended to ensure people have the freedom to hold opinions and impart ideas without interference by authorities.

Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, believes the law should not be applied against journalists.

“Another journalist spent one and a half months in prison arbitrarily because of this (legal) article,” Onderoglu told VOA’s Turkish Service. “We demand an end to the use of the judiciary as a weapon against rights defenders and journalists.”

Hilmi Hacaloglu from VOA's Turkish Service contributed to this article from Istanbul.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.