With the international community celebrating World Press Freedom Day on May 3, journalists and human rights activists around the world used the occasion to speak out about the climate of fear in Turkey since a failed coup against the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016.
Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country on Earth and both Turkish and foreign journalists spoke of the challenges they face, saying all are under constant threat of arbitrary detention, prosecution, and conviction for doing nothing more than their jobs or for expressing opinions opposed by the authoritarian
“I love my country and I love my profession. I want freedom both in Turkey and around the world, not for myself, but for all jailed journalists and the only way to achieve this is through solidarity,” said Murat Sabuncu, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, who was recently sentenced to 7-and-a-half years in jail on terrorism charges.
As well as scores of journalists, others who have backed the campaign include Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Turkish author and feminist Elif Shafak, as well as British investigative journalist and broadcaster Ross Kemp.
“Working under the constant threat of arrest and conviction makes life extremely difficult but journalism is our profession. We have to carry it out. There is a plainly visible truth in Turkey, but there is also an attempt to hide it from society. Somebody has to speak about it, and that’s what we are trying to do,” said Çağdaş Kaplan, the editor-in0chief of Turkish online news portal Gazete Karınca.
Amnesty International with the support of PEN, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Index on Censorship, as well as other organisations, called on the Erdogan regime to end its crackdown on the free media and to release political prisoners.
“With elections approaching, Turkey needs a free media now more than ever. Brave journalists are continuing to do their job in a climate of fear and the world must show the Turkish authorities that we will not forget them or the scores of journalists languishing in jail,” adding “In Turkey, what we are witnessing is an attempt to end all independent journalism. Turkey has become the world’s biggest jailer of journalists with some sentenced to life imprisonment simply for doing their jobs. As early as next week, with the verdict in the Zaman case, more could follow. The world cannot allow this to happen,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director.
The strongest outspoken criticism of Erdogan’ s campaign against the media has come from journalists who now find themselves behind bars or unemployed following raids on their offices by Turkish police authorities.
“I am in prison, but I am not a prisoner. Every day we are showing that art and journalism cannot be incarcerated. We will continue our struggle and we will continue to say ‘journalism is not a crime’ until all journalists are free,: said Zehra Doğan, artist and editor of the all-female Kurdish news agency, JINHA, that was shut down in October 2016, is serving a jail sentence for her paintings and news articles.
Her message was echoed by Hakkı Boltan of the Free Journalists Association which was shut down in November 2016. “For journalists, Turkey has become a dungeon. We had 400 members when we were closed: 78 of them are now in prison. The only way this will change is if journalists around the world stand with us to build solidarity,” said Boltan.