Does Turkey deserve this shame?

Does Turkey deserve this shame?

We are engaged in the debate on how many journalists in Turkey are jailed for two reasons.

Firstly, to defend the professional and personal rights of those journalists who have been jailed accused of being terrorists, when the real reason is that their journalistic activity was simply not acceptable in the eyes of the government. In other words, we do so to stand up against injustice.

Secondly, because we know that keeping quiet in the face of labeling journalists “terrorists” is an invitation for more journalists to be arrested and for press freedom to be further violated.
When the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the New York-based press freedom institution, showed that there were only eight journalists in Turkey jailed for their journalistic activities in its prison census of December 2011, we all rose against it because of the two reasons cited above.

Fortunately, the CPJ later corrected its mistake.

In a special report it issued on Turkey last October, they said there were 76 journalists currently in prison in this country, with 61 of these jailed because of their journalistic activities. Afterwards, they also apologized.

The other day the CPJ issued its Prison Census 2012, which declared that Turkey was “the champion of imprisoning journalists,” with a total of 49 jailed journalists.

Meanwhile, the CPJ, which determined that there were 61 jailed journalists on Aug. 1, 2012, lowered this figure to 49 in its latest report issued Dec. 11, 2012. One day before the CPJ report was officially issued, Kanaltürk TV’s Ankara representative Faruk Mercan announced on his Twitter account an interesting phrase from Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. The tweet said the following: “Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told journalists today in Parliament: ‘The CPJ will correct the number of arrested journalists in its report to 49.’”

Truly, when the report was issued, the figure was “49,” but this was not a “correction.”

According to information that reached the CPJ between Aug. 1 and Dec. 1, among those journalists determined to have been imprisoned because of their journalistic activities, 16 have been released. Meanwhile, new journalists were arrested. With additions and deductions, the number jailed went down from 61 to 49.

If the esteemed minister really used the expression that was stated in Faruk Mercan’s tweet, “the CPJ has corrected its mistake,” then he gives the impression that he was consoling himself because 49 is lower than 61.

Well, it makes no difference here. Turkey is still the world champion, even with the number 49. It does this by overtaking oppressive, authoritarian regimes such as Iran (45), China (32) and Eritrea (28).

Does Turkey deserve this shame?

As CPJ Director Joel Simons has additionally written on the issue: “Turkey has no business being the world’s leading jailer of journalists. But the numbers don’t lie … The charges are obviously serious, which is why CPJ spent months this year reviewing the case files to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations. There was not, we concluded. In fact, in many cases the evidence consisted of journalistic activity such as published articles, interviews, phone calls, and notes.”

According to the CPJ Director, repressive policies toward the media are putting at risk Turkey’s broader strategic goals - such as asserting regional leadership, attaining European integration and retaining global investor confidence in the rule of law.

Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published on Dec. 13. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.