Twenty journalists appeared before the courts, 22 journalists have been detained, and nine journalists have been arrested in March in Turkey, according to a report prepared by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The report was released by CHP deputy Utku Çakırözer during a press meeting held in the Parliament on March 27.
Çakırözer said that the legal amendment seeking amnesty for thousands of inmates should not exclude political prisoners and journalists who have been jailed due to their critical stance of the government. The amnesty bill, which is expected to presented to the Parliament next week, excludes inmates charged with terrorism – a charge which the government misuses for political ends.
The CHP deputy said that a legal amendment which benefits inmates convicted of charges of murder and drug trafficking, but does not benefit “journalists, politicians and rights defenders who have not even held a stone in their hands and who are held in prisons for their [critical] statements” is unfair.
“While thousands of prisoners will be discharged, it is unjust and unconscionable that names such as Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Osman Kavala, Ahmet Altan, Selahattin Demirtaş, Murat Ağırel are held behind bars,” he said, referring to well-known journalists, politicians and rights defenders.
The risk the coronavirus pandemic poses to staff and inmates in Turkey’s vastly overcrowded prisons has prompted the Turkish government to accelerate a plan to substitute prison time with alternatives such as early parole and house arrest.
The government’s step was welcomed by the opposition and human rights groups, however, it has been criticized as inmates who are jailed for their political views will not be able to benefit from the legal amendment. Critics say that there should be no discrimination on the basis of political opinion.
“Those who have not consulted any force or violence, but have just expressed their opinions and have uttered their criticism [of the government] should be absolutely considered within the law. Although they are not a member of a terror organization, many journalists, politicians and intellectuals are currently jailed or convicted based on the Article 220/6-7 of the Turkish Penal Code,” Çakırözer said, referring to the charge of “committing crimes on behalf of the terrorist organization without being a member of that organization.”
Çakırözer urged the government to tackle this issue and to make sure that these prisoners also benefit from the legal amendment.
Half of jailed journalists face terrorism charges, says IPI
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, has also demanded that imprisoned journalists must not be excluded from the government’s plan to release thousands of prisoners.
“According to local rights groups, Turkey’s prisons are 121 percent over capacity posing a serious threat to prisoners’ health. The proposed law, however, excludes those convicted of terrorism-related offenses,” the IPI said in a statement released on March 26.
“Yet of the 92 journalists in jail over 50 percent of them are there on terrorism charges, the results of politicized targeting of journalists for their critical reporting. Dozens of journalists have been jailed for “terrorist propaganda” or “membership of a terrorist organisation” by a subservient judiciary, as part of the government backlash against political opposition in the wake of the 2016 failed coup,” it said.
It said that due to COVID19 pandemic, hospitals and medical services are overrun, creating serious concerns over medical care of journalists and other prisoners in case of infection. “Therefore, it is of the highest importance that the new law is expanded to include journalists.”