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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Press Freedom 'NOT FREE' in Turkey under 'Advanced Islamist Democracy' of Erdogan.

Press Freedom in Turkey declines under 'Advanced Islamist Democracy' policies of Erdogan. HT: FreedomHouse.

Conditions for media freedom in Turkey continued to deteriorate in 2014 after several years of decline. The government enacted new laws that expanded both the state’s power to block websites and the surveillance capability of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Journalists faced unprecedented legal obstacles as the courts restricted reporting on corruption and national security issues. The authorities also continued to aggressively use the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and the antiterrorism law to crack down on journalists and media outlets.

Verbal attacks on journalists by senior politicians—including Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the incumbent prime minister who was elected president in August—were often followed by harassment and even death threats against the targeted journalists on social media. Meanwhile, the government continued to use the financial and other leverage it holds over media owners to influence coverage of politically sensitive issues. Several dozen journalists, including prominent columnists, lost their jobs as a result of such pressure during the year, and those who remained had to operate in a climate of increasing self-censorship and media polarization.

Constitutional guarantees of press freedom and freedom of expression are only partially upheld in practice. They are generally undermined by provisions in the penal code, the criminal procedure code, and the harsh, broadly worded antiterrorism law that effectively leave punishment of normal journalistic activity to the discretion of prosecutors and judges.

The constitutional protections are also subverted by hostile public rhetoric against critical journalists and outlets from Erdoğan and other government officials, which is often echoed in the progovernment press. Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Erdoğan has accused the foreign media and various outside interest groups of organizing and manipulating unrest in the country. He has also blamed foreign-based conspiracies for corruption allegations against his family and ministers.

In August 2014, during a speech at a campaign rally just prior to the presidential election, Erdoğan denounced Economist correspondent Amberin Zaman as a “shameless militant” and told her to “know [her] place.” In the following months, Zaman was deluged with threats of violence on social media. In September, New York Times reporter Ceylan Yeğinsu suffered a similar verbal attack over a photograph caption that accompanied her piece on Islamic State recruiting in Turkey. Pro government media depicted her as a traitor. The U.S. State Department criticized Turkey for such attempts to intimidate and threaten her.

New laws and amendments that took effect in 2014 significantly eroded freedom of expression. In February, amendments to Law No. 5651, commonly known as the Internet Law of Turkey, expanded the power of the Telecommunication Authority (TİB) to order the blocking of websites, allowing it to do so on vaguely defined grounds related to the right to privacy, without prior court approval, though a court had to uphold the order within 48 hours for a block to remain in place. In September, Erdoğan approved another amendment to Law No. 5651 that would also allow the TİB to block sites if deemed necessary “for national security, the restoration of public order, and the prevention of crimes,” but in October the Constitutional Court overturned those conditions as valid grounds for blocking by the authority.

A measure adopted in April, the Law Amending the Law on State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Organization, granted the MİT much greater powers, including the ability to access any personal data without a court order. It also gave MİT personnel immunity for legal violations committed in the course of their work, and criminalized reporting on or acquiring information about the MİT. Media workers faced up to nine years in prison for publishing information from leaked intelligence material. Read the full report here.

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