OSCE watchdog is latest to blast Turkey on lack of press freedom

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

A leading international human rights watchdog slammed Turkey on Friday for passing new laws that she said would further intimidate independent journalists in a country where freedom of expression is already severely limited and the news media have become “critically stifled.”

Dunja Mijatovic of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe singled out a new intelligence law that threatens journalists with up to 10 years in prison “for simply doing their work” on the heels of a law passed earlier this year that banned thousands of websites.

“What I find most alarming is that the direction of the latest developments in Turkey points toward more and more restrictions,” Mijatovic told a conference on the rule of law.

Mijatovic is the representative for free media at the OSCE, a body established in 1975 to encourage dialogue during the Cold War that since 1990 has worked primarily as a research center on a variety of international issues. Fifty-seven governments are members, among them all of NATO, Russia and much of Central Asia.

The independent U.S. watchdog organization Freedom House, which receives much of its funding from U.S. government grants, downgraded Turkey this month in its annual assessment of freedom of the press around the world from “partly free” to “not free,” a changed that raised a furor in the country, and Reporters Without Borders puts Turkey in 154th place in the world for press freedom, behind Russia. Prominent U.S. and German officials have been openly critical of Turkey’s suppression of news media.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned Twitter for two weeks during the run-up to local elections in late March and has refused to restore access to YouTube a month after a high court ordered the government to lift the blockade, imposed after surreptitiously recorded audio files of Erdogan were posted on the site. This week, a journalist with an opposition news organization was sentenced to 10 months in prison for sending a tweet critical of Erdogan.

Mijatovic welcomed the fact that Turkey has released many of the journalists it had jailed and now holds 29, down from 95 in 2011. But she warned that unless laws are passed to protect freedom of speech and to decriminalize the defamation of public figures, “these journalists may easily find themselves back in prison if they do not write according to the taste of those in power.”

The main message is very simple, she told McClatchy: “Hands off the media; hands off journalists. No imprisonment should be allowed for anything that journalists write or broadcast.”

Erdogan’s Office of Public Diplomacy didn’t respond to a request for comment on key points of Mijatovic’s statement.

But he’s shown himself extraordinarily thin-skinned over recent criticism of media restrictions. He had a public spat with Germany’s widely respected president, Joachim Gauck, after Gauck, an ordained Lutheran minister, told an audience in Ankara that he found the ban on Twitter “frightening.”

Erdogan dressed him down in public. “I told the German president that we will never tolerate his interference in the internal affairs of our country,” he said. Gauck “probably still thinks he is a priest.”

After Freedom House published its judgment that Turkey’s media were not free, Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, said, “Our journalists are freer than countries rated ‘partially free’ and ‘free,’ ” and claimed that the rating was part of a “perception operation” against Turkey. Contradicting his own contention about media freedom here, he went on to declare: “We expect our journalists to reject this report.”

The U.S. State Department responded tartly to Davutoglu’s reference to a “perception operation,” implying a foreign-sponsored propaganda campaign to cast the ruling Justice and Democracy party in a bad light.

“What we think would change the way people look at Turkey is if they unblocked YouTube, if they didn’t block Twitter,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday.

Turkey defends its jailing of the journalists, with the Justice Ministry saying that most of those in custody “turn out to be terrorists.” It said most of them were members of illegal extreme political groups or Kurdish organizations and “only six” had official government press cards.

Mijatovic had a response: that the 29 _ mostly ethnic Kurds jailed under vaguely worded counter-terrorism laws _ should also be released.

“One journalist is too many in prison in any country,” she said.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Miners wait for their turn to help in the rescue operations at El Comal gold and silver mine after a landslide trapped at least 24 miners inside, in Bonanza, Nicaragua, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Rescuers on Friday located 20 of at least 24 gold miners trapped by a landslide in northern Nicaragua, but were not immediately able to bring them to safety.

    24 Nicaraguan miners still trapped in gold mine

    Rescuers using long ladders tried to get food and water to freelance miners trapped in a Nicaraguan gold mine, as the effort to reach the 24 men entered its second day.

  •  
In this Aug. 26, 2014 photo, a small group of Central American migrants rides atop a freight train as it heads north from Arriaga to Ixtepec, Mexico. A Mexican crackdown seems to be keeping women and children off the deadly train, known as "The Beast," that has traditionally helped thousands of migrants head north. The once-open route to the United States has become so difficult that trains now carry a small fraction of the migrants they used to - and almost exclusively adult men. American and Mexican officials say they are noticing the same drop-off all along the route

    Mexico operations thwart child, family migrants

    Mexico is making a big effort to stop the flow of Central Americans trying to reach the United States, and has dramatically cut the number of child migrants. But it is unclear for how long federal officials will keep up the raids.

  •  
FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2010 file photo, then New Zealand's Police Minister Judith Collins speaks at the afternoon media briefing on the 29 miners and contractors trapped in the Pike River mine, Greymouth, New Zealand. New Zealand's Justice Minister Judith Collins has resigned from her portfolios amid a scandal about her ties to a controversial blogger. The resignation Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 comes just three weeks before New Zealand's general election and could impact the chances of Prime Minister John Key returning for a third term in office. (AP Photo/NZPA, Ross Setford, File) NEW ZEALAND OUT

    New Zealand justice minister resigns amid scandal

    New Zealand's Justice Minister Judith Collins resigned Saturday from her portfolios amid a scandal about her ties to a controversial blogger.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category