Turkey sentenced 23 journalists to over 100 years in prison in 2020: report

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Turkish courts handed down sentences totaling 103 years to 23 journalists in 2020, according to the “BİA Media Monitoring Report 2020,” released by the Bianet news website on Friday.

The journalists received the sentences on various charges that included “insult,” “espionage” and “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Forty-eight members of the press were detained in 2020, the report said, adding that 430 journalists had been taken into custody in the last five years, with 2016 seeing the highest number, at 201 detentions.

Following a coup attempt in July 2016 that claimed the lives of more than 250 civilians, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government increased its crackdown on media outlets and journalists critical of it under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency (BİK), the state body responsible for regulating publicly funded advertisements in the media, cut the ads of five critical newspapers for 276 days in total in 2020, the report said.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) last year imposed fines totaling around TL 19 million ($2.5 million) on TV stations critical of the ruling AKP that included Fox TV, Tele 1 and Halk TV.

According to the report, at least 18 journalists were assaulted in 2020 with seven more threatened, while the number of attacks targeting press members within the last five years has reached 139.

Throughout 2020, access to at least 1,358 URLs containing news items on issues of corruption, irregularities, drug dealing and sexual abuse in Turkey was banned by the penal courts of peace, while access blocks were also imposed on 24 news websites.

The press cards of some 150 international media representatives were not renewed, while at least 27 journalists critical of the government had their press cards canceled in the same period, the report further revealed.

A total of 215 journalists and media employees were dismissed from their jobs in 2020, mainly due to pressure from government circles, which led to some being forced to resign over ideological differences related to broadcasts, or after their programs were canceled.

Unemployment impacted the sector after the 2016 coup attempt, when 2,708 journalists lost their jobs, the report said, adding that a total of 3,436 press members have become unemployed in Turkey in the last five years.

Turkey is ranked 154th among 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are currently behind bars in the county, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.

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