59 journalists fired in the wake of Gezi protests, 40 still behind bars: CPJ

59 journalists fired in the wake of Gezi protests, 40 still behind bars: CPJ

59 journalists fired in the wake of Gezi protests, 40 still behind bars: CPJ

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon (L), Europe and Central Asia Coordinator Nina Ognianova (2L), Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour and Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita (R) present this year's worldwide 'Attacks on the Press' survey, Feb 12. AA photo

Turkey has added a new unfortunate record regarding the harassment of reporters to its previous title as the world’s top jailer of journalists. Some 59 journalists have been sacked or forced to resign in the wake of last year’s Gezi protests, while 40 journalists are still behind bars, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said during the presentation of a new worldwide survey.

“Authorities continued to harass and censor critical voices, firing and forcing the resignation of almost 60 reporters in connection with their coverage of anti-government protests in Gezi Park in June,” the report said, adding that Turkey remained the world’s leading jailer, well in front of China and Iran for a second year in a row.

“The jailing of journalists, the conflation of criticism with terrorism, and the government’s heated anti-press rhetoric, which emboldened prosecutors to go after critics, marred Turkey’s press freedom record and thwarted its aspirations to be regarded as a regional leader and democratic model,” the report said. 

The CPJ also stressed that the much-awaited democratization package announced in late September 2013 “did not result in meaningful reform of anti-press laws.”

Pressure spilling into smear campaign 

The survey highlighted the unprecedented number of reporters, editors and columnists who have been sacked or forced to quit after the protests over the demolition of trees in a central Istanbul park that spread across the nation last summer.

At least 22 journalists were fired and 37 were forced to quit in connection with their coverage of the anti-government resistance in Gezi Park in June, according to the Turkish Union of Journalists, the CPJ said, slamming the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) policy toward the media over its 11 years of rule.

“The personnel moves related to Gezi Park were the culmination of years of repressive policy by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” the report said. 

It also singled out the smear social media campaign launched by Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek against a respected reporter from the BBC Turkish service, Selin Girit. 

At the same time, the CPJ welcomed the release of Mustafa Balbay, a former editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet and a lawmaker for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who was convicted in the Ergenekon trial and jailed for almost five years.

“Balbay’s release stirred hope among press freedom advocates that more journalists held on similar charges and in similar conditions could be released,” the report said, while adding that the new amendments adopted did not address those journalists tried or convicted on charges of “membership in an armed organization.”

Iran trails Turkey with 35 journalists behind bars, while China, one of the countries most criticized on censorship, is third in the list with 32 journalists behind bars. The CPJ’s report came a day after Reporters Without Borders announced its World Press Freedom Index with a particularly negative outlook for Turkey. 

Ranked 154th out of 180 countries, Turkey was not only behind regional countries experiencing long-running turmoil such as Lebanon, but also war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Turkey had reason to rejoice, however, after finishing ahead of paragons of democracy and stability like Egypt (159th), Azerbaijan (160th), Iran (173th), Somalia (176th), China (175th) and Turkmenistan (178th).