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From the Bosphorus Straight: The foundational value of democracy

HDN | 10/21/2009 12:00:00 AM |

Reporters Without Borders has given Turkey appallingly poor marks on its freedom of the press. It is time to remember that freedom of expression is a foundational societal value.

That Turkey has made great strides in recent years toward improved human rights, reconciliation with neighbors and greater political participation is indisputable. Initiatives toward Armenia, the Kurds and even the start-and-stop process of European Union accession indicate these moves. We support these efforts and will continue to do so.

However, freedom of expression in general and freedom of the press in particular stand out as the major area of failure against this backdrop of success. Yes, we have a unique stake in this debate. The government’s series of tax cases lodged against our parent company, the Doğan Media Group, in addition to other lesser sources of harassment are clear evidence of an authoritarian reflex deeply rooted in the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Our views in this matter are quite clear.

But the resurgence of this anti-democratic spirit, ironically at a time when the government is asserting the success of its “democratic initiative,” is not limited to a series of assaults on a single media company. As our coverage Wednesday on the latest report from Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, makes clear, Turkey is fast retreating from contemporary standards of press freedom. Today, we report on the European Court of Human Rights conclusion that the closure of a pro-Kurdish newspaper was illegal.

We urge readers to examine the state of press freedom at www.rsf.org. El Salvador, Guatemala, Cambodia, the Congo, Mongolia, Uganda, Indonesia and Tajikistan are just a few of the countries where journalism and journalists operate with greater protection and freedom. Yes, things are better here than in Sudan, North Korea or China. But not by much, according to RSF. In the ranking of 175 countries, Turkey stands at 122.

The report notes arbitrary arrests and the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, including the jailing of our colleague Aylin Duruoğlu of Vatan for meeting with someone alleged to be a member of a terrorist group. She faces a possible penalty of 15 years. Those behind the killing of journalist Hrant Dink have still not been brought to justice nearly three years after the crime. The newspaper Taraf has faced repeated threats of closure for its reporting on the military. Only China has a worse record of closing access to Web sites.

We know that there is a temptation among Turkey’s allies in Europe, in Washington and elsewhere to essentially ignore these issues. As long as Turkey is making progress with Armenia, being helpful with Iran and Afghanistan, growing in importance in energy transit..., then, well, what’s to worry about a few jailed reporters? We reject this logic.

Freedom of expression is a foundational value. Without it, Turkish democracy is empty and meaningless.

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