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A 53-page report released recently by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has accused Turkey of pursuing a systematic intimidation of journalists and is a scathing criticism of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The report was seized by rights groups in Turkey and abroad as evidence of lack of media freedom under Erdogan. The report should worry the government in Ankara because it has unleashed a barrage of negative media coverage. What’s clear during the Justice and Development Party’s third term in office is that despite its claims that the government is liberalising media laws and continuing the country’s march toward a European-style democracy, what is happening is actually the contrary.
According to the CPJ report, as of Augus. 1, Turkey was holding at least 76 journalists in jail, while prosecutors were pursuing thousands of cases against other members of the news media. It further said that approximately 30 percent of the imprisoned journalists were accused of participating in anti-government plots or being members of outlawed political groups. About 70 percent of those jailed were Kurdish journalists charged with aiding terrorism by covering the views and activities of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ party and the Union of Communities in Kurdistan.
Media freedom in Turkey has been a subject of hot discussion of late, and has become a weapon in the hands of Erdogan’s detractors. By falling out with the media, Erdogan is committing a serious mistake. History shows that media in a democracy cannot be intimidated. They will retaliate with extra force and the consequences will be disastrous for their tormentor.
The Turkish government needs to address the issue fast and dispel the doubts and fears of people who are worried about the recent developments in the country. With critics, both inside the country and abroad, using the issue to paint Erdogan in bad light, as an arrogant leader with authoritarian streaks, it’s better if he comes clean. This means he will have to release the journalists who are in jail. Also, curbs on media freedom and intimidation of journalists will only cause damage to Turkey’s current reputation, especially at a time when the country is being extolled as a model for Arab countries. Perhaps the foreign agencies are not completely correct in their criticism, but there is some truth in what they say.
Until now, Erdogan has been able to fight off criticism because of the huge progress the country has made under his leadership, both in stability and economic growth. He has been in power for almost a decade, which has made him an undisputed leader, and to a certain extent he has acquired the stature of the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. But now he will be under more scrutiny and ignoring failures on human rights is no longer possible.