For Turkish FM, There Is No Jailed Journalist in Turkey

The number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey has divided media watchdogs who track the government’s crackdown on media. Counts by different press advocacy groups both in Turkey and abroad suggested numbers ranging from 81 to 162. But there is a worldwide consensus that Turkey tops the list of countries that jailed most journalists in the world. 

Despite the overwhelming evidence, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said this week that there is no journalist in prison for doing journalism.

Speaking to the Spanish press in a visit to Madrid on Saturday, Mr. Cavusoglu said with an unwavering conviction that “there is not a single journalist who is under custody in Turkey for writing stories.”

“If there is one, I would like to know who s/he is,” he said in remarks to a group of Spanish journalists from El Pais, El Mundo, ABC and La Razón.

His portrayal of the journalists jailed in Turkey as terrorists or coup supporters is not compatible with accurate information, reflecting government’s consistent efforts to bend the truth to fit their political purposes. A number of respected non-governmental organizations working to promote press freedom and safety of journalists across the world say the Turkish government has launched a full-scale assault on press freedom, alternative and critical media, placing at least more than 100 journalists behind bars.

Istanbul-based Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) puts the number as 153 after the arrest of Unal Tanik, the editor of the Rota Haber news portal shut down by a recent government decree in late January under the state of emergency. He was jailed last week after 3 weeks of detention.

In a report about the jailed journalists, New York-based Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) said “Turkey’s crackdown propels number of journalists in jail worldwide to record high,” 259, the highest number since 1990.

Amid on ongoing crackdown that accelerated after a failed coup attempt in July, Turkey is jailing at least 81 journalists in relation to their work, the highest number in any one country at any time, according to CPJ’s records, CPJ said in its report.

For Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the number of journalists jailed only after the coup attempt revolves around 100 journalists. “In the increasingly arbitrary clampdown on media freedom during the past six months, the authorities have jailed around 100 journalists without trial, closed 149 media outlets, rescinded 775 press cards, withdrawn journalists’ passports and seized their assets without justification,” it said.

Turkey Purge, a website that monitors and chronicles the ongoing purge in Turkish public service, and the media crackdown, puts the number of arrested journalists as 162, while independent, left-leaning Bianet gives 131. Haberdar news portal claimed that at least 170 journalists are imprisoned.

These organizations rely on different techniques, measures and methods to describe who a journalist is and how many of them are kept in jail in Turkey. For that reason, diverse numbers occur due to their methodological differences. But they all agree on one thing: Turkey appears as a dangerous place for journalists as more and more reporters find themselves in prison over their work.