The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just issued a report finding that the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide reached a record high this year, many of whom were jailed on the untenable pretext that they were terrorist sympathizers. The world’s leading jailer of journalists- even exceeding Iran and China, which came in second and third respectively – is Turkey. Its ruler is the Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once said “Democracy is like a train. We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want.”
Turkey, like Iran and China, “made extensive use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting political views, including those expressed by ethnic minorities,” the CPJ report concluded.
In Turkey’s case, according to the CPJ, “the authorities held dozens of Kurdish reporters and editors on terror-related charges and a number of other journalists on charges of involvement in anti-government plots.”
The CPJ reported that “more than 80 percent of the journalists in Turkish jails today have not been convicted of a crime. They are being held in open-ended detentions as their cases await court verdicts.”
Normal newsgathering activities such as fielding tips, covering protests, taking photos and conducting interviews are deemed evidence of a crime.
Neither Turkey’s Mission to the United Nations or its foreign ministry has responded to my request for comment on the CPJ report.
The United Nations Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during his daily press briefing on December 13th that, while the UN Secretariat has respect for the work of the CPJ, he had no comment to make on this particular report.
In response to my inquiry to the U.S. State Department for comment, they provided the following statement from an unnamed State Department official:
We have seen the CPJ report that global imprisonment of journalists reached a record high in 2012. The United States opposes detentions based on the peaceful exercise of freedoms of association, assembly or expression. A free media, online and offline, is essential to fostering innovative, successful, and stable societies.
We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security, and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. These freedoms are crucial to a robust democracy. We have concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey, particularly the arrests of prominent academics, intellectuals, journalists, and political activists. We encourage Turkey to respect the right of citizens to express differences of opinion in the public square.
This is a fairly bland comment on the brutal treatment of journalists reporting on Kurdish dissent, which the CPJ described in great detail in its report.
For example, one victim of Turkey’s political imprisonment of journalists is Tayip Temel, editor-in-chief of Azadiya Welat, the nation’s sole Kurdish-language daily, who faces more than 20 years in prison on charges of being a member of a banned Kurdish organization. As evidence, the government has cited Temel’s published work.
Özlem Ağuş, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, who helped expose the sexual abuse of juvenile detainees at Pozantı M Type Juvenile and Youth Prison in Adana, Turkey, was being held at Karataş Women’s Closed Prison. She faces up to 22 years in prison upon conviction. According to her defense attorney, authorities had questioned Ms. Ağuş about her published news coverage and her newsgathering practices.
Other Dicle reporters have also written about the Kurdish children at the Pozantı prison, whom were subjected to rape, periodic beatings by the guards, ethnic humiliation, and forced labor. Dicle thus became a favorite target of the Turkish police. Thirteen editors, writers, and managers with the Dicle News Agency were among at least 27 journalists still detained during 2012, after being arrested in a massive sweep in December of 2011.
The Turkish government also censors the Internet, blocking domestic news sources, including oppositionist and pro-Kurdish media. Last October, in a separate report entitled “Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis,” the CPJ said that “news sites covering Kurdish issues, such as Özgür Gündem and Keditör, have been blocked within Turkey. The people behind these journals have faced criminal charges, including ‘propaganda for an illegal organization’ and ‘encouragement to armed action.‘”
The censorship and criminalization of journalistic activities seen by the government as sympathetic to the Kurdish cause are all part of Turkey’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish people who are seeking to realize their inalienable right to self-determination. However, Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Erdoğan has not stopped with imprisonment of journalists. Kurdish politicians have also come under increasing attack. The Turkish government has arrested about 200 Kurdish mayors and local officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which promotes bilingualism and democratic autonomy for the Kurds but does not go so far as to demand a separate independent state for the Kurds. Although the BDP is represented in the Turkish parliament, several BDP lawmakers were prevented from taking up the parliamentary seats they won in 2011 and are in jail. Others who currently serve in the parliament and are supposed to have parliamentary immunity are being threatened by Erdoğan with the loss of their immunity and possible prosecution for the speeches they make in the parliament advocating the Kurdish cause.
“Yes, mayors and other officials are being arrested,” Prime Minister Erdoğan said last year, according to the Anatolian news agency. “But, brothers, they are no innocents. They have all been up to something.”
Worst of all, Erdoğan, who libeled Israel as a “terrorist state” during an address in Istanbul to Muslim religious leaders last month and falsely charged that “Israel violently massacres innocent children,” commands a military force which has conducted lethal airstrikes against Kurdish families, including children, in Turkey and Iraq. According to a figure published by Institute for Human Development (Children Rights Institution), 152 Kurdish children have been killed in Turkey under the rule of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.
These were not accidental casualties, as the following quote reportedly attributed to Erdoğan demonstrates: “Our security forces will use the necessary force and intervene against anybody who agrees to be a tool of terror, including children and women. I want this to be clearly understood.”
Apparently, none of this fazes President Obama, who regards Prime Minister Erdoğan as “an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend on a wide range of issues.” Does the wide range of issues on which Erdoğan and Obama see eye to eye include freedom of the press? Back in 2009 when Obama visited Turkey, he was effusive in describing to his audience how Turkey has “reformed the penal code and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and assembly.”
It is easy for President Obama to overlook the fact that Turkey, under the rule of his friend Prime Minister Erdoğan, has climbed the charts to become the world’s top jailer of journalists and is conducting a brutal campaign against the Kurdish people, including children. After all, who are we to criticize? As the apologist-in-chief told his Turkish audience, “The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.”
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