News & Politics

Report: Islamist Turkish Government Has Declared War on the Freedom of the Press

A new report by the Turkish Press for Freedom Project (ÖiB), which is associated with the Turkish Journalists’ Association, warns that freedom of the press is violated more often in Turkey than ever before. The Islamist-led government is cracking down on all opposition, imprisoning journalists who dare criticize its corruption and failed policies.

The Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, summarizes the report by stating that, increasingly, more journalists “face legal action, are losing their jobs and are even being sent to jail due to their writings or views.”

According to the ÖiB’s report, there are 31 jailed journalists in Turkey as of Nov. 28, which include prominent figures such as Samanyolu Broadcasting Group President Hidayet Karaca, Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet Ankara representative Erdem Gül, investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu, Nokta magazine editors Cevheri Güven and Murat Çapan, as well as Mohammed Ismael Rasool, an Iraqi journalist for UK-based VICE News.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began cracking down on the freedom of the press years ago, but stepped up the pressure when tapes of tapped phone conversations were made public, implying that government officials — and even Erdoğan’s son — might be involved in widespread corruption. While these tapes forced three ministers to step down, Erdoğan, who was then the country’s prime minister, refused to resign. Instead he declared war on those who had tapped his phone calls and those of other members of the government. He also went after journalists who had the audacity to write about the tapes. Ever since, Turkish journalists have had to fear for their livelihoods and even for their freedom.

While a total of 77 cases were filed against journalists between March-December 2014, this figure rose to 157 between January and November of 2015, the report said. It added that a total of 179 legal actions were taken against journalists in the last nine months of 2014 and this figure rose to 305 in the first 11 months of 2015.

The government has amped up the pressure by, among other things, taking over the appointment of trustees to the İpek Media Group. After this coup, which took place in late October, news outlets that were until recently critical of the Islamist government suddenly became its unofficial mouthpieces. Dozens of journalists who refused to play along were fired.

It gets worse. In the first 11 months of 2015, 442 journalists were fired because they criticized the government. An additional 29 journalists were forced to resign. As a result, the U.S.-based watchdog, Freedom House, downgraded Turkey from “partly free” to “not free” in its “Freedom of the Press 2014” report.

Worst of all is that Erdogan doesn’t give the impression he’s willing to relent. Things are likely to get very tough for Turkish journalists in the months and years ahead.