The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today hailed the second congress of the Campaign for Freedom of Turkish Journalists held yesterday in Istanbul as a magnificent show of solidarity between Turkish journalists and press freedom and civil rights organisations in opposition to the crackdown by the Turkish government on journalists.
The congress, organised by the Journalists' Freedom Platform including two IFJ affiliates in Turkey - the Turkish Journalists' Syndicate (TGS) and the Progressive Journalists' Association - in conjunction with a wide platform of concerned groups brought together representatives of international organisations (IFJ, EFJ, IPI, IPA, PEN, CPJ, SEEMO AND RSF) as well as Turkish journalists, editors, politicians, press freedom and civil rights organisations and families of imprisoned journalists.
Addressing the congress, IFJ President Jim Boumelha praised the accomplishments of the platform which made the issue of journalists in Turkish jail a global story. He said: "Today, Turkey's press freedom situation has reached a crisis characterised by the routine prosecution of journalists on criminal charges related to newsgathering; the use of government pressure to instill self-censorship in the media; and the failure to reform vaguely-worded penal and anti-terror statutes that are applied regularly against the press.
"There are not many places in the world, perhaps none, where so many writers and editors - 64 in total -- are in prison, nearly all of them on terrorism or other anti-state charges."
The congress heard chilling accounts by journalists who have just been released from jail and emotional pleas by relatives of journalists in jail or awaiting trial. A powerful cry for help came from Fusun Erdogan, founder and director of Özgür Radio, read on her behalf by her sister. She has now been held at the Gebse Women's prison for seven years and she called for support at her next hearing on September 24th.
Held on the 105th anniversary of the abolition of official censorship by the Ottoman empire, the congress reviewed the terrible state of press freedom and the prolific use of tough anti-terror legislation to intimidate journalists resulting in widespread self-censorship and a bludgeoned media.
"Füsun and many other journalists have been adopted by EFJ member unions and we are discussing the next step how to strengthen the campaign to set journalists free in Turkey." said Nadezda Azhgikhina, EFJ Vice-President.
"Having heard about the brave fights waged by the families we are more determined than ever to increase our effort to secure the urgent release of the 64 journalists in prison".
Delegates also heard chilling accounts by journalists and activists from the Gezi Park collectives of the actions by the Police in attacking the demonstrators and journalists including threats, assaults, arrests, obstruction and destruction of equipment in the most brutal display of state violence not seen since military rule. According to the TGS at least 22 journalists have been fired and 37 forced to quit over their coverage of the Gezi Park protests.
Delegates addressed in detail the steps that should be taken to amend the Turkish Penal Code, the Criminal Procedures Code, the Press Law and most importantly the Anti-Terrorism legislation to bring them in line with international standards' of journalistic freedom.
They demanded in particular that:
• All imprisoned journalists shall be released immediately.
• All journalists murders shall be cleared up and those responsible be brought to justice.
• All articles limiting freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Anti Terrorism legislation shall be abolished.
• Over 20 articles limiting freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Penal Code shall be amended in line with modern, democratic, and global standards adopted in international conventions.
• Laws used to ban internet sites shall be amended.
• Amendments in Criminal Procedures Law shall be made immediately to guarantee the right to a fair trial and to preclude long detention sentences turning out as punishment.
• The common practice of seizing documents and tools necessary for journalistic activities shall be precluded and all seized materials necessary for journalism shall be returned to their owners immediately.
• Trade union rights and the right to join and be active in a union are prerequisites for media freedom.