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Erdogan talks press freedom as Turkey jails journalists, curbs free speech

Erdogan talks press freedom as Turkey jails journalists, curbs free speech

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement on working journalists day on Sunday could not have been more ironic. In his January 10 message Erdogan famously stated that Turkey will never give up the freedom of press and free speech. For many scribes who have been incarcerated on his watch, this was a cruel joke. In Erdogan's Turkey, hundreds of journalists have been jailed, or have been forced to live in exile over the past few years for criticising his authoritarian rule cloaked in the garb of a thriving democracy.

"As Turkey, we will never give up the freedom of press, nor will we allow this concept to be exploited and used for black propaganda against our country both at home and abroad," Erdogan said in his <a href="https://www.iletisim.gov.tr/english/haberler/detay/president-erdogan-issues-message-on-january-10-working-journalists-day">message</a> on January 10 Working Journalists' Day.

The statement triggered outrage and disbelief as, according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries with the Erdogan government controlling over 90 percent of the media industry in the country.

Erdogan said that the Turkish media was "used as a tutelage device in the past when democracy was interrupted" and has made significant progress towards achieving a more democratic, liberal and multivocal structure under his presidentship.

However, the ground reality is far from what Erdogan, widely accused of acting like an 'Ottoman Sultan' and masquerading as a 'ghazi' (holy warrior), is projecting.

Independent Communication Network (BIA) which monitors and reports violations of freedom of expression in Turkey has revealed shocking figures in its monitoring report for the last three months of 2020.

It showed that at least 130 journalists were faced with the threat of nine life sentences and 1,613 years in prison in October, November and December 2020 as per the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), Anti-Terror Law (TMK), National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Law, the Law on Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) and the Law on Capital Market (SPK).

<img class="wp-image-60526 size-large" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Turkey-Free-Speech-1-1024×718.jpg" alt="Turkey Free Speech" width="525" height="368" /> Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul, last year. A coalition of 11 international press freedom, journalism and human rights groups had in October, 2020 flagged the continued jailing and prosecution of journalists as well as ongoing concerns over the safety of journalists and judicial independence in Turkey (IANS file photo)

"<a href="https://indianarrative.com/world/turkey-china-extradition-treaty-gives-uyghurs-jitters-52292.html"><strong>Turkey has been witnessing grave abuses</strong> </a>of media freedom, which is totally incompatible with the spirit of the Human Rights Strategic Document foreseeing reform until 2023," reported Bianet, an Istanbul-based Turkish press agency which focuses on human rights and it is mainly funded by a Swedish organization.

IndiaNarrative.com had last month <a href="https://indianarrative.com/world/despotic-erdogan-regime-curbs-free-speech-talks-reforms-in-turkey-49563.html"><strong>reported the deplorable state of freedom of speech and expression in Turkey</strong></a> after the shutting down of a Turkish channel, just 26 days after its launch. Olay TV had blamed Turkish government for putting intense pressure after the Erdogan regime was disturbed with its pro-Kurdish coverage.

"Turkey has become a country where journalists are taken into custody for criticizing an Ottoman Sultan, television channels are silenced for five days for the same reason, the assets of journalists in exile are seized in an attempt to bring them back to the country and violence against especially local journalists ends in impunity as it gets more and more widespread," says Bianet in one of its quarterly monitoring reports.

It said that imprisonment is not limited to prisons as dozens of journalists or media representatives experience being "prisoners" with judicial control measures or passport bans, deferment of the pronouncement of the verdict. Many, like journalist Can Dundar, sentenced to more than 27 years in jail on espionage and terror charges last month, are forced to flee the country.

A coalition of 11 international press freedom, journalism and human rights groups had in October flagged the continued jailing and prosecution of journalists as well as ongoing concerns over the safety of journalists and judicial independence in Turkey.

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Convened by the International Press Institute (IPI), the delegation also comprised representatives from ARTICLE 19, 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), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), PEN International, Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

The delegation strongly criticised Turkey's new social media law that came into force on October 1 saying, "Social media platforms as well as online news sites are among the last bastions for critical journalism in Turkey following the state-led takeover of mainstream media. While the government claims the measure is based on "similar" legislation in Western countries, Turkey's courts and regulatory bodies lack the independence necessary to prevent abuse of the law."

It is not just the journalists and local media organisations which are on the receiving end of Turkish government's repressive policies though.

On Monday, Turkey's Competition Authority opened an investigation into Facebook and WhatsApp and suspended their new data sharing rules after Erdogan's media office quit the messaging app to protest against its new privacy policy.

Ironically, even as Ankara cries foul, it seems to have forgotten that Twitter had last year purged more than 7,340 fake accounts linked to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, AKP, for violating company policy on manipulation and spam.