Jour­nal­ists fear war on me­dia amid crack­down

With nearly 100 in jail, con­cern for rights rises

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY BEN BIRN­BAUM

Many Turk­ish jour­nal­ists fear the Is­lamist­rooted gov­ern­ment is wag­ing war against the me­dia, with about 100 re­porters in prison and thou­sands afraid to write freely.

“The num­bers speak for them­selves,” said Haluk Sahin, pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Istanbul’s Bilgi Univer­sity.

“With nearly 100 jour­nal­ists in jail, you can­not claim that Turk­ish democ­racy is in good shape.”

Re­porters With­out Borders re­cently ranked Turkey 148th out of 178 coun­tries on its press free­dom in­dex. Turkey was sec­ond to last in Europe, be­hind only Be­larus, ruled by an au­thor­i­tar­ian for­mer Soviet pres­i­dent.

The num­ber of de­tained jour­nal­ists in Turkey has been hotly con­tested, but most in­de­pen­dent watch­dog groups agree that close to 100 re­porters are be­hind bars. Turkey’s record is worse than China’s with 42 jailed jour­nal­ists and Iran’s with 27.

Many say there is also an un­spo­ken rule against harshly crit­i­ciz­ing Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and his Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP).

Nina Og­ni­anova, co­or­di­na­tor for the Europe and Cen­tral Asia pro­gram at the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists, com­plained about a lack of due process.

“In many of these de­ten­tions, they are made un­der vaguely worded anti-ter­ror and crim­i­nal code pro­vi­sions, and the ev­i­dence against the de­tained is very flawed,” she said.

Last week, two of the most fa­mous de­tainees, in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters Ah­met Sik and Nedim Sener, were re­leased on bail pend­ing trial on charges that they con­spired to over­throw the gov­ern­ment.

“Ev­ery­body’s a lit­tle in­tim­i­dated,” said one prom­i­nent Turk­ish jour­nal­ist who re­quested anonymity to speak can­didly about the sit­u­a­tion. “Turkey has a democ­racy deficit right now that is widen­ing.”

The jour­nal­ist said the ar­rests un­der­mine Turkey’s in­ter­na­tional im­age as a demo­cratic model for the “Arab Spring” rev­o­lu­tions last year.

The fir­ing of sev­eral prom­i­nent Turk­ish news­pa­per columnists in re­cent weeks has raised con­cerns about self-cen­sor­ship.

“The pa­pers and TV out­lets find it a li­a­bil­ity to have some­body who crit­i­cizes the gov­ern­ment on their pay­roll be­cause it makes the re­la­tion­ship with the gov­ern­ment more dif­fi­cult for the own­ers,” the jour­nal­ist said.

Ob­servers say the new cam­paign against jour­nal­ists rep­re­sents a turn­around from the promis­ing first few years of Mr. Er­do­gan’s gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter its 2002 vic­tory, the AKP ex­panded press free­dom to bol­ster its chances of join­ing the Euro­pean Union and to prove to his­tor­i­cally sec­u­lar Turks that the Is­lamist party sup­ported democ­racy.

Many jour­nal­ists fear the sit­u­a­tion could be­come worse with Turkeyęs EU prospects drift­ing fur­ther away and the AKP be­com­ing more en­trenched in power af­ter last yearęs land­slide elec­tion.

“The AKP has crushed some hopes,” said Il­han Tanir, a colum­nist with the Hur­riyet Daily News.

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