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Turkey Leads World in Imprisoned Journalists

Samara Greenberg

According to a study by the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), Turkey is currently holding at least 57 journalists in prison, more than any other country, and has between 700 and 1,000 ongoing proceedings that could result in the imprisonment of even more journalists. In contrast, last December, Iran and China topped the list by reportedly holding some 34 journalists each. Turkey has nearly doubled that number in five months.

Most journalists jailed in Turkey are sentenced under Turkey’s anti-terrorism law. Journalists can be imprisoned for up to three years before their trials even begin and journalists can also face multiple court trials – with one reporter possibly having to undergo 150 trials. The longest prison sentence a Turkish journalist has received is 166 years; the longest sentence sought by prosecutors has been 3,000 years.

Turkish journalists march to protest a crackdown on the press. The banner reads ‘Free Press, Democratic Turkey.’

Turkey’s stifling of the media is a growing problem under the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). Shortly after the AKP took control in 2002, in early 2003, Turkey was ranked 116th in worldwide press freedom by Reporters Without Borders. By 2009, Turkey was ranked 122nd and last year it fell to 138th – “a historic low,” according to the organization.

Indeed, the AKP has shut down thousands of websites, confiscated newspapers, prosecuted journalists for libel, and slapped 4.8 billion lira ($3.05 billion) in tax fines on the government-critical Dogan media group, among other things. Last month, thousands of Turks marched in central Istanbul to protest a crackdown on the press after the arrest of more than a dozen journalists.

Under the AKP, Turkish media has lost its ability to objectively report on issues of public importance. One can only wonder what freedom will be the next to go. Unfortunately, as Turkey has demonstrated, “civilianization” of the government “does not ipso facto translate to democratization or liberalization.” It would behoove Washington to keep that in mind as it deals with the new Egypt.