Why is Turkey jailing more journalists than China?
Photograph via IFEX
Award-winning investigative reporter Ahmet Sik is no stranger to danger. In 1998, he was hospitalized after a pro-police mob, furious about a murder conviction against several cops in a torture case, attacked the victim’s lawyers, the prosecutor, and journalists. In 2009, he fled the country for a year, fearing officials who had been targets of his reporting. Short, muscular, and brutally blunt, Sik has a spent a career working on mainstream and leftist newspapers, digging into human-rights abuses and questionable government operations.
So when word leaked out in Turkish newspapers last year that he was the target of a government investigation, he knew the routine: He was being set up. “I was angry. They were linking me to a right-wing, fascistic, ultranational plot—everything I’ve been fighting against,” Sik said, his words spilling out fast, because he has a lot to say and because he does so with great passion.
Along with a handful of other journalists, he was charged under antiterror laws last year with taking part in a shadowy plot to destabilize the government. He faces a 15-year sentence, joining a steadily growing line of reporters confronting prison terms. The number of imprisoned journalists reached 90 earlier this year, according to Turkish journalism groups. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) counted 49 members of the media in prison, as of December, for the content of their work. That makes Turkey CPJ’s No. 1 jailer of journalists—ahead of Iran, Eritrea, and China.
Yet it’s not just the number of journalists behind bars that is so worrisome. It’s the frailty of freedom of expression in a country of 75 million that some consider a model for its Arab neighbors, as well as for other countries embracing democracy. “It is a very serious situation,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of CPJ, which issued a blistering report in October on the problems facing Turkish journalists, and has sent two delegations to meet with Turkish government officials.