Violations of press freedom in Turkey are not new. During the military regime in the aftermath of the 1980 coup freedom of the press was severely limited. Gradually after the restoration of democracy, freedom of press gained momentum. However, violations of press freedom continued to exist.
Since Recep Tayyip Erdogan came into power there has been limited improvement in human rights protections in Turkey. Yet, problems regarding press freedom have never been addressed seriously.
International organizations have made a note of such repression over the years. The European Commission addressed a report on Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union to the Parliament and the Council on 10 October 2012. The following extract is particularly important:
“As regards freedom of expression, a number of journalists were released pending trial after excessively long periods spent in pre-trial detention. The third judicial reform package prohibits the seizure of written work before publication. It also eases restrictions on media reporting of criminal investigations. There continues to be room for debating some topics perceived as sensitive, such as the Armenian issue or the role of the military, and opposition views are regularly expressed. However, these reforms fall short of a significant improvement regarding freedom of expression. The increasing incidence of violations of freedom of expression raise serious concerns, and freedom of the media continued to be further restricted in practice. The increasing tendency to imprison journalists, media workers and distributers fuelled these concerns. The European Court of Human Rights received a large number of applications concerning violations of freedom of expression by Turkey.
The legal framework on organized crime and terrorism is still imprecise and contains definitions which are open to abuse, leading to numerous indictments and convictions. Moreover, its interpretation by prosecutors and courts is uneven and is not in line with the European Convention on Human Rights or the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey needs to amend its penal code and anti-terror legislation to make a clear distinction between the incitement to violence and the expression of nonviolent ideas. The application of Articles 6 and 7 of the Anti-Terror Law in combination with Articles 220 and 314 of the Turkish Criminal Code leads to abuses; in short, writing an article or making a speech can still lead to a court case and a long prison sentence for membership or leadership of a terrorist organization. High-level government and state officials and the military repeatedly turn publicly against the press and launch court cases. On a number of occasions journalists have been fired after signing articles openly critical of the government.
Website bans of disproportionate scope and duration continued. Since May 2009 the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TİB) has published no statistics on banned sites. Court cases are ongoing against the You Tube video-sharing website and other web portals. The Law on the Internet, which limits freedom of expression and restricts citizens’ right to access to information, needs to be revised. An Information Technologies and Communication Board (ICTA) decision introducing optional internet filters entered into force”.
In terms of access to justice for journalists in Turkey the situation is no different for journalists compared to other groups in Turkey. Journalists have faced numerous hurdles by a government that is determined to do everything to thwart access to justice. Some journalists remained in detention for an exceptionally long time and were released without their trials having resulted in an acquittal or dismissal. These suspended trials thus remained like a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads; resuming their activity, they remained at risk of getting arrested again without the slightest notice. For instance, this was the case of Bariş Terkoğlu and Bariş Pehlivan, working for the OdaTV website. Both were released on 14 September 2012 after 578 days in detention. On one journalist, charges were brought after critical comments against the journalist concerned by the President of the Republic. On the journalist the President stated that “Someone financed terrorists in the context of the Gezi events. This man is now behind bars…”.
Since 2016 repression against journalists have only seen an increase, According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) The number of journalists detained only in the first year of the state of emergency surpassed 100. Other organizations gave much larger figures, with Free Journalists Initiative claiming that 187 journalists were under arrest by the end of the OHAL on July 2018.24 The discrepancies among numbers given by different organizations underline a more dangerous trend of churn in Turkish jails and lack of information about the fate of journalists in the country. By the time this submission was prepared the Free Journalists Initiative’s number was 154,26 and of RSF was 34.27. A further 167 journalists were under search warrant and had to flee Turkey to escape arrest according to the Stockholm Centre for Freedom’s database.
These factors show that the press freedom in Turkey today has been threatened at its very foundations. There is a government that is willing to do anything to silence journalists who are willing to question the government. The journalists are working in a hostile and a threatening environment. This is especially the case if the journalist is critical of government policy. This is the state of affairs of journalists in Turkey.