Turkey Frees Four Detained Journalists Amid Rising Criticisms Of Press Freedom

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"Turkey Frees Four Detained Journalists Amid Rising Criticisms Of Press Freedom"

Journalists Nedim Şener (L) and Ahmet Şık

Turkish authorities today released four journalists imprisoned for alleged roles in anti-government plotting with a shadowy group of alleged conspirators known as Ergenekon.

Two of the four journalists, Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, were held for 375 days, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported. The release represents a reversal in the case:

The court stated the reason for release as “the probability of the crime’s qualification being subject to change” and “the time suspects spent under arrest.” […]

The court had previously ruled against the release of prominent Şener and Şık, who have both remained behind bars since their arrest in March 2011 in connection with their alleged links to the Ergenekon clique.

The struggle between the government and the Ergenekon group, covered in depth last week by the New Yorker, pits a secular underground movement against the powerful government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his A.K. Party, known for Islamic piety and rejecting the strict secularism of Kemalism that bans public displays of religion. However, some claim that the imprisoned journalists had little to do with the alleged plots to topple the government. (A government spokesman denied improprieties to the New Yorker and said the judiciary was acting independently.)

Six journalists involved in the same case as the four released today remain in jail.

Turkey’s treatment of the press has drawn the ire of rights groups and Turkish allies like the U.S. — as well as some Turks. On December 20, 2011, Turkish authorities rounded up journalists in a crackdown on those allegedly tied to Kurdish separatist movements. The arrests came amid a larger pattern of going after journalists, detailed by writer Alia Malek that month in Foreign Policy magazine.

A large rally in Istanbul in January lamented that the verdict in the trial of an Armenian journalist’s death did not delve into organizations and powerful individuals suspected of involvement.

Just this month, the advocacy group the Committee to Protect Journalists complained that Erdoğan had mischaracterized their statistics to imply that Turkey had ample press freedom, noting: “Turkey is among the democratic countries with the highest number of journalists in prison.” Another group, Reporters Without Borders, complained that Şık and Şener had spent more than a year behind bars “for no reason.”

“According to the Journalists Union of Turkey, ninety-four reporters are currently imprisoned for doing their jobs,” wrote the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins, in a blog post accompanying his long magazine article. “Remember, too, that when you start arresting journalists, the freedom for those not in jail shrinks, too.”

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