Turkey is the world’s “undisputed leading jailer of journalists” with more than 120 journalists behind bars — a global record, an international press watchdog said on Monday.
The International Press Institute (IPI) said in its Turkey report that hundreds more face prosecution on terrorism-related charges, raising concerns about the situation of the media in the country which has not improved since the end of a two-year state of emergency last year.
That was a consequence of an “extended, politically motivated crackdown against the media” which notably increased following a coup attempt in July 2016.
During the state of emergency, declared soon after the failed coup, more than 150,000 public servants, including judiciary officials, military officers, police, and academics, were ousted over their alleged links to the failed coup attempt. More than 77,000 people have been jailed.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers for the coup attempt.
Shortly after the failed coup, more than 160 journalists were arrested, over 170 media outlets were closed and nearly 3,000 journalists were left jobless.
The report, titled “Turkey’s Journalists in the Dock: Judicial Silencing of the Fourth Estate”, came after an IPI-led mission of eight international journalists and rights groups to Turkey from September 11 to 13, 2019.
The IPI report with its findings and recommendations is expected to be presented to the European Union (EU) leaders on Wednesday.
Under the current extreme conditions, with tens of thousands of cases pending and a third of its judges sacked, the Turkish judiciary has been struggling to deliver justice and due process, according to the report.
The right to a fair trial, notably in freedom of expression cases, is continually breached and critical journalism routinely presented as terrorist propaganda, the report said.
Contrary to the propaganda by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the judicial reform strategy announced in May 2019 has just normalized the type justice dished out in the country during the state of emergency instead of paving the way for an effective and independent judiciary, IPI claimed.
AKP’s interference in the Turkish judiciary was evident from the fact that rulings of the Constitutional Court (AYM) in some freedom of expression cases, which were in line with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) standards, were met with resistance and obstruction in the lower courts.
“The state’s actions clearly demonstrate that the existence of a terrorist threat is being instrumentalized to serve an indiscriminate crackdown on critical voices,” the report read.
With the report, the journalists and rights group has called on the Turkish government to revise the country’s anti-terror and defamation laws and not to deliberately equate public criticism with terror propaganda.
All jailed journalists should immediately be released and arbitrary prosecutions based on baseless indictments targeting journalists should be ended, according to the report.
The IPI said the Turkish judicial institutions should be freed from the shadow of the ruling power over them, demanding the April 2017 amendment to article 159 of the Constitution be repealed.
The amendment has drawn backlash among many as it allowed for direct political interference in the nomination procedure to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the disciplinary body of the Turkish legal system, thus affecting the independence of Turkey’s entire judicial system.
Turkey was ranked 109th out of 126 countries in the World Justice Project’s 2019 Rule of Law Index.