There are seventy-three journalists currently in prison in Turkey, either serving out sentences or in pre-trial detention, according to the annual report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), released Wednesday, December 13. The number of incarcerated journalists in Turkey is down from a high of eighty-one the previous year, but it still remains the country with the largest number of journalists in prison. China is second, with forty-one journalists in prison, and Egypt is third, with twenty. In total, the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide was a record high of 262.
As Nick Danforth, Senior Policy Analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, tweeted in reaction to the CPJ report, Turkey has become such a prolific jailer of journalists, outranking more highly authoritarian countries by a long shot, because it is currently transitioning from a state with a more or less democratic system and relatively free press to a one party, one man authoritarian system.
The plight of Kurdish-Turkish journalist Nedim Türfent exemplifies the impossible situation that imprisoned Turkish journalists find themselves in. Türfent has been in detention since May 2016, when he was arrested while documenting Turkish military operations against Kurdish militants in the southeastern Turkish province of Hakkari (Colemerg in Kurdish). He has been charged with membership in a terrorist organization and creating propaganda for a terrorist group, namely the Kurdish guerilla organization, the PKK. He was one of twelve members of the Kurdish-focused news agency, Dicle or DIHA, to be arrested between December 2015 and May 2016. DIHA was shut down by government decree about six months after Türfent’s arrest. The officers who arrested Türfent threatened to kill him, and he spent his first thirteen months in prison in solitary confinement.
Prosecutor asks for continuation of Nedim’s arrest. Nedim tells court: ”Many witnesses have withdrawn their testimonies. It’s malicious intended to still demand my punishment through witness statements. If their statements are not valid, why is a trial taking place?”#NedimTürfent
— Aylina Kılıç (@AylinaKilic) December 15, 2017
Of the twenty witness that have been called against him, nineteen have admitted that they were forced or tortured into testifying against Türfent. Despite the tainted evidence, Türfent was sentenced to eight years and nine months in jail.
In the introduction to its report, the CPJ notes that the rhetoric directed against the press by U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as his friendly behavior toward countries with some of the worst records on media freedom, including Turkey, has reinforced the notion that detaining journalists is acceptable. With the United States turning a blind eye toward international press freedom, and indeed experiencing its own internal issues with media independence, we can only expect more Turkish journalists to be imprisoned for the audacity of reporting the truth.
You can search the CPJ database for the names of all journalists imprisoned in 2017 here.