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Turkish president, about to visit France, must stop crushing media freedom

As French President Emmanuel Macron prepares to receive a visit from his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stresses the urgency of defending media freedom in Turkey, where the unprecedented persecution of journalists is a source of destabilization both for Turkey and all of Europe.

It will be President Erdoğan’s first visit to France since a bloody coup attempt in July 2016 that plunged his country into an unparalleled spiral of repression.

Turkey’s already worrying media situation has become critical since then. Ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index, it is now the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, while around 150 media outlets have been closed, reducing pluralism to a handful of embattled newspapers.

President Macron promised yesterday that he would “in a few days continue to raise with Turkey the situation of journalists who are imprisoned and prevented from practising their profession.”

“President Macron, we are counting on you to keep your promise and to firmly request the restoration of pluralism in Turkey and the release of journalists who are unjustly imprisoned,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“President Erdoğan’s strategy of maintaining tension, which electrifies the political climate and prevents a democratic public debate, is fraught with danger both for Turkey and for Europe. It is liable to increase instability and accentuate the deep fracture lines in a very polarized society. It is in no one’s interest to allow Turkey to become so unpredictable.”

Most of Turkey’s imprisoned journalists are being held pending the outcome of their trials. Some have already been held for more than a year.

They include Ahmet Şık, an investigative reporter who was cut shortafter speaking for two minutes during his last court appearance and was expelled from the courtroom; Şahin Alpay, a 73-year-old editorialist who has been held for more than 500 days despite having heart problems; and Ahmet Altan, a well-known commentator who is facing the possibility of three jail terms for supposedly sending “subliminal messages” during a TV appearance.

Most of the imprisoned journalists are accused of links to terrorist groups or complicity in the coup attempt – charges that carry possible life sentences.

But in practice, criticizing the government, working for a “suspect” media outlet, contacting a sensitive source or using an encrypted messaging app are all regarded by the courts as grounds for imprisoning a journalist without having to prove any individual involvement in criminal activity.

(c) 2018 Reporters Without Borders

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