European Federation of Journalists

Turkey: 2023 was a dark year for journalists

Picture credits: Ricardo Gutiérrez / EFJ.

On 25 April, the Ankara public prosecutor’s office requested the conviction of 11 journalists from the Mesopotamya News Agency (MA) for alleged ‘membership in a terrorist organisation’. The case comes just as the Journalists’ Association of Turkey (GCD) is publishing its annual report on press freedom in Turkey. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), present in Ankara, joins its Turkish affiliates GCD, TGS and DISK Basin-Is in denouncing the intensification of pressure on journalists by the Turkish government. The EFJ condemns this climate of terror aimed at imposing widespread self-censorship.

The 2023 report published by GCD, as part of the European ‘Media For Democracy’ (M4D) project, notes a general deterioration in the state of press freedom in Turkey. Although the number of journalists imprisoned has fallen in recent years, judicial pressure has increased: hundreds of journalists are being prosecuted and could be detained at any time, creating a climate of widespread self-censorship. The report denounces in particular the repressive role of state regulators, the Radio and Television High Board (RTÜK) and the Public Advertisement Authority (BIK).

In 2023, the repressive forces of the Turkish state acquired a new weapon, with the inclusion in the penal code of provisions punishing, with penalties of 1 to 3 years in prison, the public dissemination of so-called false information. Under this new article of the penal code, at least 33 journalists were investigated and 16 were detained or arrested in 2023. The report notes the increased number of complaints and investigations and even arrests of local journalists by influential groups, parties or individuals acting with the government in small cities.

The report also comments on the authorities’ censorship of the earthquakes of 6 February 2023, government propaganda on the state television channel TRT and the increased use of violence by the police against journalists.

In 2023, at least 67 journalists were attacked, prevented from reporting by physical force and obstructed from working by damaging their equipment. And at least 85 journalists were detained just for doing their job, which is an increase compared with 2022 (78 detained journalists).

The anti-terrorism law remains a favoured instrument of repression, as do the legal provisions punishing so-called ‘insults to public authorities’ or to the President of the Republic. Lawsuits against journalists have multiplied in 2023:

  • at least 13 journalists were sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison on the basis of anti-terrorist or anti-insult provisions;
  • at least 22 journalists were sentenced to imprisonment or fines for allegedly insulting a public official;
  • at least 121 journalists have been investigated or prosecuted on grounds of insult or slander.

According to the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, at the end of 2023, there were a total of 35 journalists behind bars, 14 of whom were convicted.

Another report made public by GCD, the Professional Satisfaction Survey analysed by Dr. Cagri Kaderoglu Bulut, from Ankara University, reveals the growing social insecurity of journalists in Turkey, and the judicial pressure they face: 35% of the surveyed journalists stated that they had been detained or prosecuted for their journalistic activities, and 36% earn minimum wage or below.

Director of the M4D project, Yusuf Kanli insisted on the importance for all associations and unions representing journalists in Turkey to join forces against the repressive forces.

Turkey is the Council of Europe member country where we recorded the most violations of press freedom in 2023,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “The relative drop in the number of journalists in prison should not lead us to believe that the situation of press freedom is improving. The authorities have just found other ways to exercise their censorship. I am happy to see the joint resistance of our affiliates against the regime”.

The EFJ GS participated, this Friday and Saturday, in the conference organized by M4D, in Ankara, in the presence of the president of GCD, Nazim Bilgin, the president of TGS, Gökhan Durmuş, the president of DISK Basin-Is, Turgut Dedeoglu, and local journalists’ associations representatives.