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International mission delegates renew demand to release imprisoned journalists

(IFJ/IFEX) - 24 November 2011 - A mission of international journalists and media organisations - including the European Federation of Journalists and its affiliate, the Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikasi (TGS - Journalists' Union of Turkey), and a delegation of the German Deutscher Journalisten Verband (DJV), the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the European Association of Journalists (AEJ) - on a visit to Turkey from 22-24 November to witness the deteriorating state of press freedom in the country today denounced the fact that 64 journalists are still in jail.

"We are impressed by the fact that the journalistic community in Turkey is now joining forces to fight for media freedom and the release of their jailed colleagues," the delegation said. "The solution of the problem lies in Turkey. As representatives of international organisations, we strongly support our colleagues and urge the authorities to talk to them and find democratic solutions on the issue of press freedom. The climate of fear and self-censorship that we observed must be put to an end."

Demonstration and process

On Tuesday, mission participants took part in a demonstration in front of the Caglayan Justice Palace, Istanbul, where the trial of 10 imprisoned Turkish journalists was to start. The demonstration took place without any incident, despite a massive police presence. However, the conditions of the hearing left the observers deeply concerned. In a much-too-narrow and overcrowded court room, which some delegates could only reach after more than two hours queue, the journalists' lawyers demanded the recusal of one of the three judges for alleged bias and sought the release of their clients, who remain under indictment. The court refused the demand for release and postponed the case until 26 December, when a higher court is expected to make a decision on the recusal request.

Meeting with families

On Wednesday, the mission's members met with families of detained journalists at the headquarters of the Freedom for Journalists Platform. After numerous and moving testimonies of facts, fear and courage, the participants voiced a number of recommendations, including the establishment of an organization to help the imprisoned journalists' families, the production of an "information kit" for foreign journalists who are unfamiliar with the poor situation of press freedom in Turkey and legal training for young Turkish journalists to allow them to better report on judicial cases.

Meetings in Parliament

On Thursday, the delegation, whose request to meet the Turkish minister of Justice was declined, met in Ankara with vice-presidents of the parliamentary groups of all political parties in the Turkish Parliament.

The three opposition parties promised to support a special session in the Turkish Parliament on press freedom and also to send MPs as observers to the trials of journalists. The ruling AKP party declared it would "take into consideration" the first proposal, as well as the possible monitoring of conditions of detention of journalists "and other detainees". They also promised to involve NGOs, non-governmental organisations, in future legislation on press issues.

Following the meetings, the international journalists and media organisations:
- repeat their concern and their anger over the worsening situation of press freedom in Turkey, which currently has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in Europe;
- demand a change in legislation to drop cases opened against journalists under the umbrella of the anti-terror law and the Turkish penal code;
- maintain their request for the immediate release of imprisoned Turkish journalists.

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