Turkey down 40 notches on World Press Freedom Index

October 22, 2010, Friday/ 17:33:00
Turkey was ranked among the worst 40 countries in terms of press freedoms, according to a report released earlier this week by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Turkey ranked 138th on a list of 178 countries in the RSF's annual World Press Freedom Index issued on Wednesday. This is a further decline of 16 places down from last year's 122nd ranking. Turkey stands between Singapore and Ethiopia. Northern Cyprus performed much better in the 61st position.

RSF criticized the increasing number of sanctions against journalists. “These declines can be explained, as far as Turkey is concerned, by the frenzied proliferation of lawsuits, incarcerations and court sentencing targeting journalists,” the RSF said in a press statement after the release of the report. Turkey had fallen 20 places in the 2009 rankings to 122 on the list of 175 countries.

Turkey was ranked among the worst 40 countries in terms of press freedoms, according to a report released earlier this week by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Turkey ranked 138th on a list of 178 countries in the RSF’s annual World Press Freedom Index issued on Wednesday. This is a further decline of 16 places down from last year’s 122nd ranking. Turkey stands between Singapore and Ethiopia. Northern Cyprus performed much better in the 61st position.

RSF criticized the increasing number of sanctions against journalists. “These declines can be explained, as far as Turkey is concerned, by the frenzied proliferation of lawsuits, incarcerations and court sentencing targeting journalists,” the RSF said in a press statement after the release of the report.

Charges against journalists

In April this year, Şamil Tayyar of the Star daily, who is among the most prolific writers on Ergenekon, a clandestine terrorist organization alleged to have planned to overthrow the government, was convicted yet again for articles he wrote about a suspected military plot drafted by a colonel.

A court handed down a 15-month suspended sentence for Tayyar for violating confidentiality, influencing the independence of the judiciary and violating the confidentiality of preliminary investigations. This was his third conviction related to his coverage of Ergenekon.

Thousands of cases have been filed against newspapers, television stations and journalists since the Ergenekon investigation started in June 2007. According to data from the justice ministry, cases were filed against 4,139 journalists between June 2007 and Oct. 2009 for violating confidentiality, influencing the independence of the judiciary and violating the confidentiality of preliminary investigations. The number of cases filed against journalists covering Ergenekon is estimated to have reached 5,000. Over 20 journalists, including Tayyar, have already been convicted in these cases. Many newspapers have also been victimized for publishing articles on Ergenekon. Zaman daily is currently facing nearly 185 court cases, Star daily 150 and Yeni Şafak and Taraf 100 court cases each over their reports on the Ergenekon investigations.

Turkey had fallen 20 places in the 2009 rankings to 122 on the list of 175 countries. It was placed slightly ahead of Venezuela in the 2009 index, sharing the same place with the Philippines. In 2008, it ranked 102nd along with Armenia among a total of 173 countries. In 2007, Turkey was one place ahead on rank 101 among 163 countries. The World Press Freedom Index 2010 is the ninth such ranking published by RSF. The index this year is lead by Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in equal first position. Trailing behind, at the bottom of the list this year were Myanmar (174), Iran (175), North Korea (176), Turkmenistan (177) and Eritrea (178).

The six European countries sharing the top spot this year have been described as the “engines of press freedom.” But over half of the European Union’s member states lie outside the top 20, with some significantly lower entries, such as Romania in 52nd place and Greece and Bulgaria tied at 70th. “It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to fall in the index. If it does not pull itself together the EU risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights. And if that were to happen, how can it possibly be convincing when it asks authoritarian regimes to make improvements? There is an urgent need for European countries to recover their exemplary status,” said Jean-François Julliard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, in a statement on Wednesday.

The edges of Europe fared particularly badly this year; Ukraine (131st) and Turkey have fallen to historically low rankings, and despite a rise of 13 places, Russia remains in the worst 25 per cent of countries at 140th place. It ranks lower than Zimbabwe, which continues to make steady -- albeit fragile -- progress, rising to 123rd.

Justice ministry investigates press prosecutor

The Justice Ministry launched an investigation into the Bakırköy prosecutor in charge of press crimes, Barut Emre, who has recently drawn attention by filing charges against journalists reporting on crucial court cases such as the Ergenekon trial. According to sources close to the ministry, a large number of complaints have been received by the Justice Ministry’s Penal Affairs General Directorate about the prosecutor who has filed charges of “violation of confidentiality” against dozens of journalist covering Ergenekon and related court cases.

Emre is accused of filing complaints arbitrarily, often without hearing preliminary testimonies from accused journalists.

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