Turkey: Detained Journalists Released, But Concerns Remain Over Press Freedom
In an unexpected move, a Turkish judge today released pending trial Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, two high-profile journalists who had been detained for over a year on charges that they were part of a plot to topple the government. The arrest and jailing of the two respected journalists had brought Turkey's record on press freedom under increasing scrutiny. For example, Sener and Sik's surprise release -- along with two other journalists who were in jail -- came only days after the New Yorker took a look at the subject of media freedom (or the lack of it) in Turkey, first in a long article and then in a followup blog post by the story's author, Dexter Filkins. In his post, which notes that Turkey has the highest number of journalists jailed in the world, Filkins writes: "Measuring strictly in terms of imprisonments, Turkey—a longtime American ally, member of NATO, and showcase Muslim democracy—appears to be the most repressive country in the world." Clearly, this is not the way Ankara would like the world to think of Turkey. For the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has worked hard to present itself as a force for reform and democratization, the release of Sener and Sik appears to be an important step in rescuing its image.But even with today's release, the number of journalists left in Turkey's jails remains unacceptably high, with some 100 members of the press currently behind bars (a list can be found here). Many of these journalists are from Kurdish media outlets, locked up because of vague legislation that allows prosecutors to equate speech with supporting terrororism. Beside the jailing of journalists, there are other concerns about the freedom of information in Turkey. In a report on internet freedom released today, Reporters Without Borders put Turkey on its "under surveillance" list because of government efforts to create a centralized system for filtering online content and blocking access to certain websites.When the AKP was pushing in 2010 for Turkish voters to support a referendum on a series of constitutional changes, its supporters came up with the slogan "Yes, but not enough," to reflect the fact that the reforms fell far short of the complete overhaul of the outdated and problematic constitution that the government had previously promised (and has yet to deliver). The slogan could very serve as a comment for today's release of Sener and Sik -- "yes" to their release, but "hardly enough" when it comes to the cases of many of the others still locked up and the laws used to keep them behind bars.