Turkey’s crackdown on free speech is frightening with the highest number of journalist imprisoned in the world

Turkey

Turkey’s increasing disregard for human rights issues including freedom of press defines the increasingly authoritarian era of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. International Press Institute (IPI) published areporttitled “Turkey’s Journalists on the Ropes,” on Wednesday to emphasise the demonic implementation of Ankara’s continuous throttling of the freedom of press.

The report was supported and funded by the EU, along with 11 international organizations which work towards reinstating freedom of speech and human rights. These included the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), PEN International, Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

The report highlighted, “Turkey’s press freedom crisis is worsening amid growing state capture of media, the lack of independence of regulatory institutions, and a new social media law designed to clamp down on the remaining spaces for free comment.” It added that the most frightening aspect of the current scenario was its controlover judiciary which all the more encouragedthe Turkish government to limit the freedom of press.

“The government is determined to use all available tools to suppress criticism whether on broadcasters, in print and online,” IPI head of Europe Advocacy Oliver Money-Kyrle said in a press release announcing the report. “The international community and the European Union, in particular, must be prepared to make improved relations contingent on an end to the media crackdown and improved human rights in general.”

The mission has been raising concerns over the fate of dozens of dissenting journalists who have been battling unjust trial proceedings, pre-trial detentions, the abuse of anti-terror laws, which put many behind bars, and convenient altering of laws that could be brought about by the Judicial Reform Strategy. According to the report, as of October 2020, Ankara imprisoned 77 journalists, one of the highest numbers for any country in the world. This year’s report alsocalled out against the controversial amnesty law announced earlier this year to prevent overcrowding in Turkish prisons amidst Covid scenario. But the provision excluded journalists from its scope.

Besides, the report raised alarm over the country’s extensive censorship pervading even the digital space. Turkey’s recently introduced Social Media Law, which came into force on October 1; showed how far the authorities can go to control anything which helps forming an independent public opinion and could pose potential threat to the ruling, ranging from media regulatory bodies, public debate, critical journalism; and the judicial independence.

Erdogan recently employed tactic of silencing dissenting voices from all social media forums and targeted not only journalists, celebrities, and influencers but even countries who have been raising voice against Ankara’s international war crimes. It is ironic how an NATO member, otherwise committed to peace, has escalated conflict in various countries including Libya, Syria, Armenia, Cyprus, Yemen etc.

Erdogan through its new social media law even tried to arm twist Facebook through heavy penalties in order to attain stronger control over social media, compelling the California-based company to appoint a local representative in Turkey and store some data from users on local servers. “The international community must step up its bilateral and multilateral efforts to bring Turkey back into the club of countries that respects the rule of law. Human rights issues, including press freedom, must not be held hostage to geopolitical developments,” the report said.

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