A media delegation to Turkey has found that the country’s press freedom is worsening amid a growing state capture of media, lack of independent regulatory institutions, the new social media law, and the continued jailing and prosecution of journalists.
The delegation included the International Press Insitute, Reporters Without Borders, Association of European Journalists, the ECPMF, and PEN International amongst others.
The report noted that scores of journalists are behind bars and face baseless prosecution in retaliation for their work. They accuse the government of instrumentalizing a justice system that doesn’t guarantee due process in court. A lack of political will to end this issue is “hugely disturbing”. They referred to the case of former Cumhuriyet editor Can Dundar who has been declared a fugitive and had his assets confiscated. This constitutes a “new form of attack on journalists through the seizure of private property…as a reprisal for their legitimate journalistic work.”
The delegation requested that the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Justice ensure the prosecution of those responsible for physical attacks on journalists which are on the rise. The Minister side-stepped the comment and said that all judges and prosecutors are responsible for this and are “fully independent”. They also claimed that judges “no longer even arrest journalists in most cases.
The authorities are also accused of stepping up online censorship through the implementation of a draconian social media law. Turkish authorities claim that the law is based on ‘similar legislation” in Western countries, but it’s feared they will use it to silence online critics.
As of October 1, 2020, social media companies are required to appoint legal representatives and to move all user data of Turkish citizens to servers inside the Republic of Turkey. Should companies not comply, the law provides for a series of measures, including the reduction of bandwidth, until they are no longer able to operate in Turkey.
To date, no social media platforms have complied with the order.
Another issue raised was the problem of criminal defamation laws which are not in one with best practices.
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