"A critical journalist in Turkey these days needs a lawyer on standby. The press is laboring under a creaking judicial system and a panoply of antiquated and vague legislation that officials and politicians of every stripe find irresistible as a weapon against muckraking reporters and critical commentators" said Robert Mahoney, Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Mahoney has travelled to Turkey twice to do reporting for CPJ. He interviewed more than 20 media executives, journalists, academics, lawyers, and human rights defenders during a 2011 visit to the country. He now summarized his findings and conclusions in a press release.
"After several years of legal and constitutional reform prompted by Turkey's application for European Union membership, moves to lighten the dead hand of the law on journalists are running out of steam. (...) EU accession talks and, with it, Turkish law reform are treading water.
Situation for Kurdish and leftist journalists different
Besides, Erdoğan is presiding over a country with 9 percent annual economic growth and enhanced political clout in the region thanks to deft diplomatic maneuvering that put Ankara on the right side of the Arab uprisings in 2011. The United States seems wary of calling out Turkey on its human rights and press freedom record. Washington is comfortable with the narrative that Turkey, a NATO member and crucial U.S. ally in the region, is a progressive, secular democracy and a model of free speech compared with its neighbors Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
But for journalists, particularly Kurdish and leftist ones, progress in freedom of expression has not kept pace with political and economic advances.
Journalists and press groups estimate there are 4,000 to 5,000 criminal cases currently open against reporters.
Prosecutions have intensified since authorities in 2007 first detailed the "Ergenekon" conspiracy, an alleged nationalist military plot to overthrow the government.
Journalists' sense of security nose-dived in March 2011 with the arrests of leading investigative reporters Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener on Ergenekon- related charges, and then again in December with the government's roundup of more than two dozen journalists on vague propaganda allegations.
Mahoney quoted bianet Project Advisor Nadire Mater as saying, "The press freedom climate is like the Istanbul weather, always changing. One day, there's an opening to the Kurds; the next, trials are started," she said, referring to the shift in the administration's attitude toward the independent press before and after Ergenekon.
One of the most intimidating statutes, however, remains the 1991 Anti-Terrorism Act (Act 3713), which was prompted by the Kurdish rebellion that began several years earlier. Articles 6 and 7 of the law, the most frequently used against the media, outlaw the publication of statements by terrorist organizations, for example, and provide a one- to five-year prison term for making "propaganda" for such organizations. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that these provisions restricted freedom of expression and contravened Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.
The anti-terror law has been used repeatedly to close or suspend Kurdish publications and jail Kurdish journalists (...)". (AS)
Click here to read the full analysis.