Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has dismissed claims raised in a recent report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that dozens of journalists who have been jailed were arrested or convicted because of their journalistic activities and called on the committee to explain how the crimes they stand accused of may be associated with journalism.
Ergin spoke to reporters on Wednesday to respond to the claims included in the CPJ's 2012 report, which was published last month. The minister said several journalists are in custody for serious crimes such as armed robbery or bomb attacks, contrary to the CPJ's claims that they are serving prison terms because of their writing.
“The CPJ has to explain how the activities of suspects arrested or convicted of armed robbery or bomb attacks are associated with the profession of journalism,” Ergin said.
In its report, the CPJ argued that press freedom in Turkey has reached a crisis point, with authorities engaging in the widespread criminal prosecution and jailing of journalists. The committee identified 76 journalists imprisoned as of Aug. 1. At least 61 of these journalists were being held in direct relation to their published work or newsgathering activities, according to the CPJ.
Ergin defined the CPJ report as a “one-sided” work that features the opinion of a “certain circle in Turkey.” “The CPJ says 76 journalists are held in prison. A majority of those 76 people were held in custody in 2011, too [because of criminal activities other than their writings]. What happened this year to make the committee claim that those people are imprisoned for journalism-related activities?” the minister asked.
Without citing their names, Ergin listed a few suspects held in prison and said one of them stands accused of becoming a member of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) and being involved in the murder of a police officer and a night guard. Another suspect is accused of carrying out bomb attacks at a political party building and a police station, and one other suspect stands accused of an armed robbery of a bank, according to the minister.
Ergin also said the CPJ report may be aimed at winning back the hearts of critics of a previous report by the committee. “The CPJ's 2011 report stated that only eight of the journalists held in prison were targeted [by judicial authorities] due to their journalism-related activities. Some media outlets and civil society groups showed a harsh reaction to the committee due to the report. And now we see that the CPJ prepared this year's report in an attempt to make up for the previous report. This  is a one-sided report. It is based on statements coming from one certain circle,” he added.