A total of 102 journalists appeared before courts in 52 cases and 10 journalists were sentenced to a combined 39 years and 11 months in prison during the three-month period covered by the report
The third of our regular Freedom of Expression and the Press Agenda reports has been published. The report, which covers the months of July, August and September 2021, is based on data obtained from trial monitoring work and media research conducted by the Expression Interrupted platform.
The full report is available here.
According to the report, the number of journalists in prison in Turkey continued to decline in the third quarter of the year. In this period, a total of seven journalists who have been in prison since 2016 were released upon completing their respective sentences while one journalist whose sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals was sent to prison.
The facts behind the numbers
With fewer arrests in recent months and the release of journalists who completed their respective sentences, the number of journalists in prison has fallen below 60 for the first time since Turkey declared a State of Emergency in 2016. However, considering the facts that the journalists released were freed upon completing their sentences and that the majority of those released could regain their freedom only after remaining behind bars for at least five years shows that there is no improvement in the oppressive government practices targeting press freedom and freedom of expression.
Despite fewer arrests taking place, the trials against journalists continued unabated. According to the report, in the third quarter of 2021, about half of which coincided with the judicial summer recess, Turkish courts heard 52 journalism cases, in which 102 journalists appeared before judges. As a result of these trials, 10 journalists were sentenced to a combined prison term of 39 years, 11 months, and 12 days in the reporting period. Nine new cases were filed against 10 journalists while 13 new investigations were launched against at least 16 journalists.
Unprecedented increase in attacks and police brutality against journalists
In addition to court cases, physical obstruction, threats and assaults constitute another major component of the pressure faced by journalists in Turkey. According to data compiled by Expression Interrupted using information available in open sources, at least 51 journalists suffered physical attacks or faced obstruction by the police or civilians during the reporting period. In the same period, at least 15 journalists were detained, while seven of them were taken into custody during news coverage. Increasing police brutality has made it almost impossible for journalists to cover public demonstrations and protest marches.
Politically motivated penalties by RTÜK and BİK
The practices of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and the Press Advertising Agency (BİK) -- which are accused of creating a financial crackdown on dissenting media organizations through political and disproportionate penalties, and accreditation bans on critical media outlets and journalists -- also continue to pose an important obstacle to press freedom in Turkey. In the reporting period, the wildfires that raged across the Mediterranean and Aegean regions clearly revealed the attempts of RTÜK to intervene in television broadcasts. Not only did RTÜK send a “private” warning to TV executives so that coverage of forest fires would be made in accordance with the criteria it has set forth, it also imposed fines on six TV stations in the amount of TL 3,3 million at once for failing to meet their expectations.
These six networks were FOX TV, KRT, Tele 1, Habertürk TV and Halk TV, which are frequently fined by RTÜK. Other than the fines imposed for their coverage of forest fires, these channels were also targeted by broadcast suspensions and administrative fines imposed by RTÜK in the three-month reporting period.
İlhan Taşcı, a member of RTÜK elected from the Republican People's Party (CHP) quota, announced that all penalties given by RTÜK, which is required by the law to act impartially, were imposed on television networks billed as opposition. According to figures provided by Taşcı, since the beginning of the year, Halk TV received 18 penalties while Tele1 received 15; Fox TV received nine, and KRT received eight. During the same period, pro-government broadcasters A Haber, TV24, TVNET, Ülke TV, TGRT and Kanal7 received no penalties.
Also during the reporting period, the Press Advertising Agency started implementing the fines it imposed on BirGün and Cumhuriyet newspapers last year. Accordingly, BirGün daily was banned from publishing public ads and announcements for 22 days in September while Cumhuriyet announced that the 35-day initial segment of the 74-day public ad ban it had been imposed would be implemented in October.