Turkey has experienced a worsening crackdown on press freedom over the course of 2017, imprisoning the highest number of journalists anywhere in the world.
According to the recent annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a total of 73 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey in 2017, which, although a drop from 81 in 2016, was more than both China and Egypt. President Recep Erdoğan’s regime continues to crack down on its opponents following last year’s attempted coup.
The crackdown journalists and thousands of other citizens experienced is part of a wider attempt to imprison supporters of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Erdoğan insists was the mastermind behind the country’s attempted coup that took place in 2016.
Following last year’s military coup, Erdoğan’s government has shut down over 130 media outlets, arresting many of their highest-ranking journalists.
“The crackdown on the Turkish press that began in early 2016 and accelerated after a failed coup attempt that July — which the government blamed on an alleged terrorist organization led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen — continued apace in 2017,” the report reads.
“Authorities accused some journalists of terrorist activity based solely on their alleged use of a messaging app, Bylock, or bank accounts at an allegedly Gülenist institution,” the report continues.
The report also noted that Turkish government “appeared to pay little price for its repressive tactics,” with Erdogan visiting President Donald Trump at the White House and maintaining close ties with the European Union.
In an interview with Breitbart News in March, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu denied that his government was restricting press freedoms and instead claimed that those imprisoned had links with terrorism.
“Free press is definitely necessary for democracies and democratic societies,” Çavuşoğlu said. “Press should be also, at the same time, much more responsible and they should tell the truth.”
Nevertheless, there were some media outlets belonging to Fethullah [Gulen] terrorist organization, and they were involved in the failed coup in Turkey. And they were also involved in many illegal activities including fabricating false evidence against third persons. So those are the media outlets closed by the independent judiciaries in Turkey, not by president. The president has no authority to do so in Turkey.
However, the press freedom non-profit Reporters Without Borders previously described Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison for media professionals.”
“Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned without trial, turning Turkey into the world’s biggest prison for media personnel,” the organization noted in April. “Those still free are exposed to other forms of arbitrary treatment including waves of trials, withdrawal of press cards, cancellation of passports, and seizure of assets. Censorship of online social networks has also reached unprecedented levels.”