Turkey has seen a worrying increase in violations of press freedom, with 136 cases reported in the first half of 2023, according to a report from the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). These violations have become more frequent since the devastating earthquakes in February and in the lead-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in May.
The MFRR, led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), pointed out that legal issues are the most common threat, accounting for nearly 45% of all cases. Journalists are often subjected to arbitrary arrests, criminal charges, and convictions. They are accused of offences such as “terrorism”, “insulting public officials”, and “inciting hatred”.
Turkey continues to be one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, with 21 currently imprisoned. Notably, Kurdish reporter Sinan Aygül was the first to be sentenced under a new “disinformation law” enacted in late 2022.
The report delves into the systematic harassment and intimidation of journalists, particularly those of Kurdish descent, who report on matters of public interest. It highlights that at least 10 Kurdish journalists were arrested in April during coordinated dawn raids across the country in connection with anti-terror investigations.
Journalists covering the earthquakes and elections have also faced physical violence. This includes incidents such as assaults by anti-terror police officers in the Battalgazi district of Malatya and by village guards in Adıyaman (Semsûr). Public officials and their security guards have also been responsible for several physical attacks on journalists.
Turkey’s government-controlled media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), continues to penalise media outlets for critical reporting. These penalties often involve fines and temporary bans on TV programmes.
After the February earthquakes, reporters experienced severe verbal harassment and threats, particularly when reporting from disaster-stricken areas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and RTÜK chairman Ebubekir Şahin have been identified for intimidating and targeting journalists covering the disaster.
Access to Twitter was temporarily restricted following the earthquakes, and multiple reporters were prevented from covering voting processes in various cities during the elections. The Ministry of Industry and Technology chose not to renew the operating licence of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service, forcing its reporters to work as freelancers.