Turkey marked May 3 International Press Freedom Day amid growing concerns for the state of press freedom in the country.
According to the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC), there are currently some 159 journalists in Turkish prisons.
“In order for peace in the country to be established, the 159 jailed journalists need to be released immediately,” a statement by TGC read, adding that “journalism will always exist.”
“We believe that these hard times will pass, the oppression deemed suitable for journalists will end and that the politicians who cause this will go away, but that journalism will always exist,” it also said.
Turkey’s Press Council High Commission held a meeting to mark International Press Freedom Day at the Yaşar Kemal Culture Center, which is close to Istanbul’s Silivri Prison, where a high number of journalists are being kept in.
The spouses of the jailed journalists also attended the meeting.
Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), meanwhile, gathered in front of Galatasaray
High School in Istanbul’s Taksim at around 12 p.m. to demand the release of journalists and writers in jail. The union said Turkey was “experiencing its worst period regarding press freedom and freedom of expression.”
DİSK Basın-İş, the press workers’ union of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), said they would continue to raise its “voice for a country in which media organizations are not closed and journalists are not subjected to every manner of oppression.”
The union also staged a protest in front of Çağlayan Courthouse in Istanbul, demanding the release of journalists.
Moreover, the Progressive Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) said “the people’s right to obtain information has been eliminated.”
“The press has been unable to carry out its duties in Turkey for a long time now. We are facing a political understanding that wants to govern the country in a rose garden without thorns,” ÇGD head Tevfik Kızılkaya told daily BirGün.
Speaking about the conditions of journalists in Turkey, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul lawmaker Barış Yarkadaş said dozens of journalists had been in jail for months and that indictments regarding some of them had yet to be prepared.
“I guess they are unable to prepare indictments due to their inability to find a crime,” Yarkadaş said, adding that “the government is trying every way to silence those who write the truth.”
“Cumhuriyet journalists have been held hostage for months. Writers are being made to pay a heavy price. Release Cumhuriyet journalists now; their arrests have become torture,” he added, referring to the arrested journalists and executives of daily Cumhuriyet, for whom charges include “membership of an armed terrorist organization” and “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it.”
Int’l organizations send messages of solidarity
International organizations sent messages of solidarity to jailed Turkish journalists on May 3 International Press Freedom Day, while demanding the journalists be released and that Turkish authorities respect press freedom.
Steven Ellis, the International Press Institute’s (IPI) director of advocacy and communications, penned a letter for the journalists behind bars in Turkey, saying “they are not forgotten.”
“On World Press Freedom Day, the international day dedicated to emphasizing the importance of press freedom and reminding governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to free expression enshrined under Art. 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your colleagues around the world want you to know that you are not alone and you are not forgotten,” Ellis said in a letter published in daily Cumhuriyet on May 3, adding that “they heard that the charges against the journalists are unrelated to journalism.”
“We know that the cases against journalists imprisoned for their work cannot be viewed as anything but a bid by Turkey’s government to silence criticism and hinder accountability, and that your lengthy confinement under arbitrary restrictions is punishment for having spoken out,” he also said.
IPI also staged protests in several cities in Europe
and called for journalists to be released. The institute demanded IPI member Turkish journalist
Kadri Gürsel and many other jailed journalists be freed.
In a letter to Turkish Ambassador to Helsinki Adnan Başağa, the editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat and chair of IPI Finland, Kaius Niemi, said that “they cannot help but view the cases as bids to silence criticism and hinder government accountability.”
“The world needs Turkey’s help to address serious challenges, but the number of journalists imprisoned and the circumstances of these cases strongly suggest that Turkey lacks a sufficient commitment to democratic norms and human rights to be a reliable partner,” Niemi said.
Amnesty International’s branch in the Netherlands, meanwhile, projected the names of jailed Turkish journalists onto the Turkish embassy building in The Hague in a move to mark International Press Freedom Day.
The names of daily BirGün journalist
Mahir Kanaat and daily Cumhuriyet’s Ahmet Şık were projected onto the embassy, along with a statement demanding their release, at around 10 p.m. on May 2.
“Free Mahir Kanaat” and “Free Ahmet Şık” were projected onto the embassy building alongside a statement reading “Journalism is not a crime” in both Turkish and English.
Amnesty International said the projection was made in order to draw attention to the situation of journalists in Turkey, adding that it was part of a global campaign titled “#FreeTurkeyMedia.”
Moreover, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, three journalists from Al Jazeera who were imprisoned in Egypt, wrote a piece for Amnesty International, in which they expressed solidarity with their Turkish colleagues.
“A tragedy is slowly unfolding in Turkey,” they said, adding that the international support they received facilitated their release.
“Independent journalism is being systematically stamped out in Turkey. Prison doors are slamming, media outlets are being boarded up, and a disturbing silence is falling over what was once a vibrant and diverse media landscape. All of these measures against independent journalism are painful to watch,” they added.
Calls for press freedom in Turkey were also made in several cities in Europe.
During a demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin, members of Reporters Without Borders held posters with portraits of journalists detained in Turkey to protest against the situation of the media in the country.