As the world marks Human Rights Day on December 10, the International Press Institute (IPI) is running a new campaign calling on Turkey and the international community to protect press freedom and let journalists report freely. Newspaper ads in Turkey and Europe this week will highlight the importance of press freedom as a human right.

The campaign also comes as the EU’s relations with Turkey are on the agenda of the European Council’s meeting on December 10 and 11.

In October the European Council offered Turkey the opportunity to improve economic and political relations including modernization of the customs union and trade facilitation, people-to-people contacts and high-level dialogue in exchange for resolving the drilling dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean.

This offer was made without reference to Turkey’s failure to support basic human rights and the systematic abuse of anti-terror legislation to silence its critics. The European Commission’s own progress report issued on October 6 provided a detailed account of human rights abuses across the country and spoke of “serious backsliding” on freedom of expression issues.

IPI conducts detailed monitoring of the violations of press freedom and in particular the catastrophic consequences of the backlash against critical voices since the failed coup of 2016. Key issues are cited in the recent report from the IPI-led international press freedom mission to Turkey in October.

The latest backsliding figures are:

79 – Journalists in prison

65 – Journalists convicted of terror-related charges in 2019

120 – Individual trials of journalists in 2020

170 – Media outlets forced to close since 2016

1252 – Years of prison time handed to journalists since 2016

316 – Days of advertisement bans on independent media in the first 5 months of 2020

Unknown – The number of news stories in Turkey – including stories focused on the wide human rights problems in the country, and especially those affecting the country’s minority groups and vulnerable communities – left untold thanks to an atmosphere of self-censorship amid the government’s unrelenting crackdown.

In the past year the government has used media regulatory bodies in the broadcast and print sectors to tighten the pressure on critical media. Meanwhile, journalists continue to face fines or prosecution for reporting news or conducting public debate that is uncomfortable for the government.

And this October a new social media law came into force that will expand digital censorship in the country and force social media companies to act as arms of Turkey’s censorship appratus.

For the latest overview of the current situation see ‘Turkey’s Journalists on the Ropes’ the report of the international press freedom mission conducted in October 2020.

IPI’s #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign provides exhaustive documentation of the violations of journalists’ rights and uses various platforms to advocate within Turkey for

  • The release of all jailed journalists
  • An end to the prosecution of journalists on terror-related and other spurious charges to suppress and intimidate criticism and public debate
  • Reform of the judicial system to establish its independence from political influence
  • End efforts to censor content online
  • End the suppression of independent media by media regulatory bodies

The European Council should ensure, during its meeting on Human Rights Day, that any improvement in relations with Turkey is contingent on concrete progress in freedom of expression and human rights more generally.

This campaign is conducted with the support of the European Commission.