The United States critised on Tuesday Turkey’s latest crackdown on freedom of speech, after at least eight journalists were charged or summoned to testify in court last week.
“We urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence and other human rights and fundamental freedoms,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Ahval in an email.
Three journalists from critical news outlet OdaTV, including editor-in-chief Barış Pehlivan, were arrested last week over a report covering the funeral of a Turkish intelligence officer who died in Libya.
Separately, pro-Kurdish news site Rudaw’s reporter Rawin Sterk and cameraman Mehmet Şirin Akgün were detained for “filming in a military field” last Saturday for their coverage of the thousands of refugees at the Greek border in Turkey’s westernmost Edirne province. Although Akgün was eventually released, Sterk was charged on Friday with terrorist propaganda in favour of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with the court citing his social media posts as evidence.
Meanwhile, Yeni Yaşam newspaper’s managing editor Ferhat Çelik, editor-in-chief Aydın Keser and editor Semiha Alankuş were summoned to court on Friday, but were released later in the day on parole.
“We firmly believe that freedom of expression, including for speech and the media – even speech which some find controversial or uncomfortable – strengthens democracy and needs to be protected,” the State Department official said on Tuesday.
Press freedom in Turkey has seen a sharp decline in recent years under the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the country has become the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists, with year-long pre-trial detentions and long jail sentences being common occurrences.
Last week, a report by international rights group Freedom House revealed that Turkey has seen the second largest decline in fundamental rights worldwide over the last decade.
“While not every utterance that is critical of the government will be punished, the arbitrariness of prosecutions, which often result in pretrial detention and carry the risk of lengthy prison terms, is increasingly creating an atmosphere of self-censorship,” the report said.