This statement was originally published on seenpm.org on 16 December 2015.
Dear President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu,
The undersigned civil society organizations, members of the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM), express grave concerns over the Turkish government's flagrant violations of media freedoms.
We are concerned that your government uses methods incompatible with a democratic society to exert pressure on media organizations to conform with government policies. Economic pressures are deployed to manipulate news coverage and limit public debate, with wayward journalists fired and independent news outlets denied revenues. In parallel, pro-government media and their proprietors benefit from different government favours, including budget subsidies that create unfair conditions on the media market.
Even more alarming has been the practice of seizing control through legal administrators of entire news organizations in order to force a change of their editorial line.
It concerns us most that Turkish courts are using pre-trial detention as a means of silencing and punishing government critics and are acting in a blatant disregard of due process.
There are currently 33 journalists in prison in Turkey. Their only crime was reporting. It is their job to hold government to account. Causing embarrassment to those in power should be no crime in a democracy.
Turkish authorities have long misused anti-terrorism legislation as a pretext for incarcerating dissident figures. We are worried that this practice, which generates perilous and abhorrent environment in public life, may now be escalating.
We call upon the Turkish government to end the practice of using special courts to imprison journalists.
We call on President Erdoğan to cease threatening individual journalists such as Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of the daily Cumhuriyet, who, the president said in a TV interview in May, would “pay a heavy price” for running a story on alleged weapons transfers from Turkish authorities to armed groups in Syria. Dündar and Cumhuriyet's Ankara Bureau Chief, Erdem Gül, were then arrested on terrorism and espionage charges late last month.
We call upon the Turkish judiciary to immediately release Can Dündar and Erdem Gül. It defies common sense that they could be guilty of espionage for carrying out what in a democracy would be regarded as their professional duty.
We call upon the judicial authorities to release Nokta magazine's editor-in-chief, Cevheri Güven, and managing editor, Murat Çapan, who face charges of “inciting the public to an armed uprising to overthrow the government.” Such an accusation is palpably absurd.
Another journalist, Mehmet Baransu, a columnist for Taraf newspaper, has not been formally charged despite being incarcerated for over ten months now. Mohammed Resul, a fixer for VICE News, has been in detention for the last four months.
A large number of those held in jail on terrorism charges are editors and reporters from pro-Kurdish news outlets, including Ali Konar from Azadiya Welat newspaper. We call on the authorities to release them.
Following a 9 December visit to five of the imprisoned journalists by a lawyer from Platform 24, a SEENPM member, we urge your government to immediately start repairing its democratic credentials by restoring the rule of law and respecting press freedoms in full.
Albanian Media Institute, Tirana, Albania
Bianet, Istanbul, Turkey
Center for Independent Journalism, Bucharest, Romania
Center for Independent Journalism, Budapest, Hungary
Independent Journalism Center, Chisinau, Moldova
Investigative Journalism Center, Croatia
Macedonian Institute for Media, Skopje, Macedonia
Media Center Caglavica, Kosovo
Media & Reform Center, Nis, Serbia
Mediacentar, Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina
Media Development Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
Media Plan Institute, Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina
Montenegro Media Institute, Podgorica, Montenegro
Novi Sad School of Journalism, Novi Sad, Serbia
Peace Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Platform 24, Istanbul, Turkey
Albanian Media Institute
Center for Independent Journalism - Hungary
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet