''Turkey is the biggest jail for journalists in Europe,” said Erkan Ipekci, Turkish journalist and winner of the International Reporter of the Year Award given annually by the National Union of Italian Reporters (UNCI).
Ipekci is the president of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS). He was given the award his organization's untiring work defending the large number of Turkish journalists who have been arrested, fired from their jobs or sentenced to prison over the last number of years.
“Since 2009, some 183 journalist have ended up in prison, 63 of whom are still in jail,” Ipekci said, speaking to ANSAmed News . “Since then we have begun to feel ever more the effects of amendments to anti-terrorism laws and those to the criminal code introduced in 2005 with European support.''
The new criminal code was ostensibly introduced to meet European standards necessary for Turkey to be accepted into the European Union. However, secularists and journalists feared Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would use some of the regulations to favor Islamists and suppress free speech by journalists.
Indeed, journalists saw their phones tapped and accusations of “terrorism” made after publication of articles covering activities not to the liking of Erdogan’s Islamist government. Ipekci said that most journalists are in prison for alleged member ship in illegal organizations such as the Kurdish PKK and KCK or alleged participation in the Ergenekon affair, where 254 defendants were convicted of trying to overthrow the Islamist government in a highly politicized trial that reached its conclusion last August 5 after five years.
The convicted – all secular critics of Prime Minister Erdogan’s Islamic agenda for Turkey — included army officers, parliamentarians, politicians, journalists and writers from the highest positions in Turkish society. Many were given life sentences plus additional years, with one prominent journalist sentenced to life in solitary confinement.
The court was able to hand down such harsh sentences by declaring that the defendants belonged to a terrorist group — dubbed the Ergenekon network — who had allegedly plotted to wreak havoc in Turkey and ultimately bring down Erdogan.
''Prior to the Gezi Park protests,'' Ipekci said, ''the government had gradually created a climate of fear throughout society, which felt it was under pressure and did not have any channels to express itself – in part due to the self-censorship by the media itself, which was conditioned by the same climate,'' he said.
With free speech under fire, Ipekci said that the protests of last summer in Istanbul's Gezi Park and Taksim Square were the people’s way of ''find[ing] new forms of expression.''
Over 100 journalists were injured in two months during the anti-government protests, Ipekci said.
The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists reported that six weeks after the protests, 72 journalists had been fired. ''We are asking the European public opinion,'' Ipekci said, ''to put pressure on the Turkish government to change its laws. Even the latest series of 'reforms' for 'democratization' do not mention freedom of the press but only of religion.'' (ANSAmed).
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