In its latest report published on 27 January rights body Freedom House said that the media crackdown in Turkey has led to a decline of political rights and civil liberties. In the past months several journalists have been fired and jailed, a number of newspapers and TV channels were put under trusteeship and the offices of a government-critical media holding were raided. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists the situation of journalists in the country has deteriorated and Turkey is one of the top five imprisoners of journalists.
Climate of fear
Freedom House said that Turkey’s decline in its rating was due to the renewed violence in the East of the country, the IS terror attacks and the “intense harassment of opposition members and media outlets by the government” ahead of the elections in November 2015. Human Rights Watch Turkey analyst Emma Sinclair-Webb said that the government has “shown an unprecedented willingness over the last year to create a climate of fear for their critics and demonize their opponents”. According to the government currently 67 journalists are jailed. Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair Sezgin Tanrikulu said that in 2015 156 journalists had been detained, while 774 journalists were fired. Among them are Cumhuriyet editors Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who are facing a life sentence for publicizing an article about Turkey’s alleged weapon transports to Syria. Furthermore, over 1200 academics are under investigation on ‘terrorist propaganda’ suspicion, after they signed a petition to urge the government to stop its violence in the East of the country.
Several international actors have been outspoken about the freedom of media in Turkey. American Vice-President Joe Biden said that when freedom of expression is limited a “country is robbed of opportunity and the country is being robbed on possibilities”. Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland urged the government to show that “human rights in Turkey are not in permanent reverse”. EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn also urged Ankara to improve media freedom. In Turkey the opposition parties condemned the government’s crackdown on media, and journalists have organized protests and are holding a vigil in front of Dündar and Gül’s prison.
In the past months the government intensified its crackdown on media. Several foreign journalists were arrested and deported while reporting in the East of the country. Websites, including Twitter, were fined for “failure to remove terrorist propaganda”.