Various human rights groups have criticized the Turkish government’s crackdown on journalists in recent years. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report last October condemning Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his government for its campaign of muzzling and jailing journalists, saying that “Turkey’s press freedom situation has reached a crisis point.”
According to the report, Turkey has in recent years jailed more journalists than China and Iran. Seventy percent of those journalists in Turkish jails, however, are Kurds charged with aiding the Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) insurgent campaign against the Turkish state (many others are in prison on charges related to the so-called “Ergenekon” case, a supposed plot by secularists to overthrow Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning government). CPJ says that the definition of terrorism in Turkey’s anti-terror laws “is overly broad and vague, allowing zealous prosecutors and judges to imprison journalists sympathetic to the Kurdish cause as though they were members of a terror group.”
A Turkish newspaper reported this week that the PKK will announce next month that its fighters will disarm and withdraw from Turkish soil in a confidence building measure aimed at ending the 28-year-old conflict. But with a PKK peace deal potentially on the horizon, Carnegie Europe scholar Marc Pierini, former EU ambassador and head of delegation to Turkey from 2006 to 2011, told ThinkProgress that despite the Kurdish issue playing a primary roll in Turkey’s troubles with press freedom, peace with PKK will not mean that the issue will go away.
“The majority of the arithmetic of the issue goes away in terms of freeing jailed journalists,” he said. “But that’s not all. The key underlying factors to the deteriorating situation of press freedom in Turkey are, one, the Kurdish issue, two, media ownership, and three, I would say the political culture around journalists.”
“Because the political culture [in Turkey] is so vivid,” said Pierini, who participated in a Center for American Progress event on Tuesday examining President Obama’s relations with Turkey during his second term, journalists and government officials “go after people instead of discussing issues. That has to change.”