November 7, 2015

IFJ general secretary: Turkey is largest jail for journalists in Europe

Anthony Bellanger, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), said at a press conference in Brussels on Friday that as a result of government pressure on free media, Turkey has become the largest jail for journalists in Europe.

Speaking during a joint press conference at the Press Club in Brussels along with representatives from the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), Bellanger noted that they had been concerned about government pressure on the press in Turkey for some time and that it did not end after the Nov. 1 election.

Bellanger noted that Turkey leads Europe for the number of imprisoned journalists and that more complaints are submitted to the European Council about the conditions journalists in Turkey face than any other country. “Turkey is the largest jail for journalists in Europe,” he said.

“It [following the pressure on the media in Turkey] has become our daily routine work. We were concerned about the situation before Nov. 1 election and it continues after the election,” Bellanger said.

Underlining that the IFJ has taken steps to have the UN impose sanctions on countries that violate press freedoms, Bellanger noted that sanctions must not be understood as simply embargoes; there could also be economic sanctions through international financial institutions such as International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He added that the IFJ and the EFJ wrote a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in late September denouncing restrictions on the freedom of the press and increased censorship in Turkey.

The letter, signed by the heads of the IFJ and the EFJ, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), called for reforms after the Nov. 1 snap election to ensure that the profession of journalism in Turkey recover its position as a profession that is independent, pluralistic and in the service of the public interest.

“We wish to remind you that journalism's central role in a democracy is to hold government to account by regularly and independently challenging it on its performance and records. A government that responds with hostility, public rebuke and prosecutions is a government that has given up on its own ability to win public support based on the legitimacy of its policies and record in office,” read the letter.

According to Bellanger, international press organizations, along with their Turkish partners, must work harder to protect the rights of journalists in Turkey.

‘Freedom of media in Turkey can be summarized with takeover of İpek media Group'

Also speaking during the press conference, TGS President Uğur Güç said that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government pressure on free media has continued for years and media freedom in Turkey can be summarized with the takeover of the critical İpek Media Group by a government-backed court order just days before the Nov. 1 election.

On Oct. 28, Turkish police raided the headquarters of the media outlets that are part of Koza İpek Holding after the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled for the takeover of the administration of the holding's companies in a government-backed move. Supported by riot police in gas masks, police officers and trustees appointed to manage the firms broke down the gate of the corporate headquarters of Koza İpek Holding, used pepper spray on lawyers who tried to protest and made their way into the building by force.

So far, the new trustees have fired 71 journalists from the outlets that make up the İpek Media Group.

TGS İstanbul branch head and reporter for the Evrensel daily Gökhan Durmuş said at the press conference that the pressure on the media in Turkey had brought journalists of different ideologies together to discuss freedom of the press.

“I saw Bülent Keneş, the editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman, at TGS meetings and I believe this cooperation among journalists who are critical of the government will increase in Turkey because the government pressure on the media will continue to increase,” Durmuş said.

Keneş was briefly arrested in October over a series of tweets critical of the government and Erdoğan. He was accused of "insulting Erdoğan," a charge that is often brought to punish criticism of the president. Keneş appears in court several times per month for several cases related to his critical tweets.

Published on Today's Zaman, 6 November 2015, Friday