Which country jails the most journalists? You could easily think of a theocratic regime in Middle East, communist countries or a dictatorial-rule country as the correct answer but in fact according to many different sources, Turkey is the country where the maximum number of imprisoned journalists is reached. How can a country making negotiations for becoming a full member of the European Union (for many a political body still having the highest standards of human rights) has become the largest prison for journalists? Let me explain this subject.
Turkish journalists are imprisoned mostly because of political reasons and alleged links with terrorist groups. It works in two different directions. One is related to Ergenekon case, which was recently finalized, where Kemalist-social democratic or Turkish nationalist journalists were imprisoned with the pretext of organizing a military coup against the democratically elected Islamist government led by Justice and Development Party (JDP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The other part is related to extreme left and pro-Kurdish journalists blamed to have links with the illegal PKK terrorist organization. Although at first glance, both coup organizing and terrorist activities seem plausible reasons for imprisoning people even journalists, the problematic legal framework in Turkey and the uncontested power of the government create problems and lead to unjust decisions. According to Freedom House, Turkey is placed at the rank of 120th in Global Press Freedom Rankings in 2013. This and many other evidences show that there is a problem going on in Turkey. The Secretary-General of Reporters without Borders organization Christophe Deloire claims that “Turkey’s counterterrorism laws are archaic and repressive”. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media prepared a report in April 2012 about the status of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. It has some important passages about the legal problems in the country;
As last year, most journalists are in prison based on the following laws:
o The Anti-Terror Law of Turkey (also known as Terörle Mücadele Yasası, TMY), Articles 5 and 7 relating to articles of the Criminal Code on terrorist offences and organizations or assisting members of or making propaganda in connection with such organizations, as well as the lengthening of sentences;
o The Criminal Code of Turkey (also known as Türk Ceza Kanunu, TCK), Article 314 on establishing, commanding or becoming member of an armed organization with the aim of committing certain offences.
Courts often impose exceptionally long imprisonment sentences. The longest conviction is 166 years and the longest jail sentence sought for a journalist is 3,000 years. Many journalists face double life sentences if convicted, some without possibility for parole.
Courts do not tend to grant pre-trial release of defendants. There is concern that arrests and long pre-trial detentions without conviction are used as a form of intimidation. Based on available public information, only on seven recent occasions were defendants released pending trial: in February and March 2012 seven journalists were released pending trial, one of them due to poor health.
Pre-trial detentions remain very long. In some cases journalists held in prison for up to three years are still awaiting trial. Some journalists have been imprisoned for more than five years while their trial is ongoing.
Journalists often face several trials and are often convicted for several offences. There is one journalist who faces 150 court cases.
The reform of related laws has not occurred, despite statements made by the authorities about the necessity for such reforms. Not only do the laws need to be reformed, but their implementation as well. Court practices interpreting laws remain widely varied throughout the country.
Media outlets reporting about sensitive issues (including terrorism or anti-government activities) are often regarded by the authorities as the publishing organs of illegal organizations. Courts often consider reporting about such issues as equal to supporting them.
Journalists are often imprisoned in F-tipi cezaevi (F-type high security prisons), where they have to serve their time with the most dangerous criminals. It is also not uncommon to punish journalists with solitary confinement for extended time periods.
Turkish people especially oppositional groups towards Justice and Development Party do not seem convinced about the legal decisions of the courts. It is obvious that cases like Ergenekon and Balyoz remind people the show-trials of the Stalin regime in USSR in the past and as far as I’m concerned there is a visible legitimacy and evidence crisis in these cases. For instance, very famous journalists Tuncay Özkan and Mustafa Balbay, known for their pro-secular worldviews are imprisoned on the basis of their diaries and role in the organization of large meetings and no real evidence was presented to the public showing a criminal activity. This kind of problems increase people’s suspicions and decrease the legitimacy of these cases.
Finally, although democracy is for sure preferable to military coup, we should make a clear separation between democracy – which is about a method for choosing governments and liberalism – which is about individual rights and freedoms. In that sense, Turkey is more democratic but much less liberal in the recent years. If I have to make a choice between liberalism and democracy, I would prefer liberalism since it directly influences people’s and journalists’ lives.
Assist. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 For instance see; “Turkey – World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists”, Reporters without Borders, Retrieved on 16.08.2013 from http://en.rsf.org/turkey-turkey-world-s-biggest-prison-for-19-12-2012,43816.html. Also see; “Seeking Meaning in Jailed-Journalists Count”, Wall Street Journal, Retrieved on 16.08.2013 from http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/seeking-meaning-in-jailed-journalists-count-1250/
 You can find the list of imprisoned journalist in Turkey from here; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_arrested_journalists_in_Turkey#cite_note-1.
 See; “Global Press Freedom Rankings – Freedom of the Press 2013”, Freedom House, Retrieved on 16.08.2013 from http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Global%20and%20regional%20tables.pdf.
 Michael Sontheimer, “’Everyone Is Afraid’: Erdogan Regime Cows Embattled Media”, Spiegel Online, Retrieved on 16.08.2013 from http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/media-repression-in-turkey-intimidates-and-imprisons-journalists-a-905164.html.