“We came to Istanbul to express our concern about the state of press freedom in Turkey. Even if progress has been made since the 1990s when journalists were being imprisoned in their hundreds, there is a lot still left to do. Turkey is still not a country that respects press freedom. Journalists need to have plenty of courage to do their job. It is a dangerous profession which exposes them to the risk of prison, threats and physical violence. It is worrying to note that all journalists are under threat, no longer just those who cover the army or Kurdish issues as was the case 15 years ago. We call on the Turkish authorities to make the defence of press freedom a national priority. The prime minister should demonstrate his commitment to defending the right of journalists to express themselves freely. Until now, he has not done so”, said Reporters Without Borders at the conclusion of a six-day investigative visit to Turkey.
The organisation went to Istanbul from 13-19 April to investigate recent arrests and detention of journalists and to review the state of press freedom in the country. Reporters Without Borders met journalists of all kinds, independent reporters, lawyers for journalists facing court proceedings, members of professional bodies, as well as leading figures from civil society currently campaigning for press freedom. The organisation’s representatives also met with the family and legal representatives of Ahmet Sik, who has been imprisoned since 3 March 2011, and of Hrant Dink, who was murdered on 19 January 2007.
The visit allowed the organisation to assess the current campaign for press freedom in Turkey. In addition to a very active civil society, the profession as a whole has shown very heartening solidarity with recently arrested journalists.
A conference was held in Istanbul on 19 April 2011, entitled “Arrests and detention of journalists in Turkey: press freedom in danger”, bringing together the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Jean-François Julliard, the Secretary General of the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), Sibel Günes, and the representative of the Friends of Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, Ismail Saymaz..
Reporters Without Borders calls on the Turkish justice system to severely restrict the recourse to exceptional anti-terror measures against journalists who are only doing their job, in particular articles under the anti-terrorist law providing for prison sentences in cases involving “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, very often leading to journalists being brought before special courts for organised crime, and which should urgently be repealed.
The organisation urges the Turkish authorities to react seriously to the lists of imprisoned journalists drawn up by Turkish and international NGOs, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union. These lists should be carefully examined in a spirit of openness, and journalists imprisoned solely for their professional work should be immediately released.