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Turkey biggest prison in Europe for journalists, union chief

180 arrests in 8 years, says Ipekci. Many on terrorism charges

11 October, 17:34

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, OCTOBER 11 - Turkish journalist and winner of the International Reporter of the Year Award given annually by the National Union of Italian Reporters (UNCI), Erkan Ipekci, spoke to ANSAmed about challenges to press freedom in his country. Ipekci, president of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) was given the award by UNCI for his organizations's relentless efforts to defend journalists who have been arrested, fired from their jobs or sentenced to time in prison. ''The issue is whether human rights in Turkey should be considered according to European standards or Middle Eastern ones,'' he said. ''Turkey is the biggest jail for journalists in Europe. Since 2009 some 183 journalist have ended up in prison, 63 of whom are still in jail. Since then we have begun to feel ever more the effects of amendments to anti-terrorism laws and those to the Criminal Code introduced in 2005 with European support.'' The country's new Criminal Code was brought in by the government to meet the EU's demands during membership talks which have since slowed, with steeper punishments for police torture and abuse and greater protection for women and children.

    However, it was criticised by the secular environment and journalists out of concern that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for bringing in some regulations at the same time that favoured Islamist circles and others acting as pressure on journalists. The possibility of jail sentences for journalists is envisaged, along with many other regulations, Ipekci said, that restrict freedom of expression. Many journalists have been jailed on terrorism charges, the head of the country's journalists association said, after the interception of phone calls they made as part of their jobs and the publication of articles, photos and interviews held up as proof of illegal activities. Most reporters are in jail for alleged membership in illegal organisations, such as the Kurdish PKK and KCK, or for alleged coup attempts connected with the Ergenekon case, in which not only high-ranking military officers were charged but also journalists - twenty of whom sentenced to many years in jail - and which ended with about 15 life sentences being handed down. ''Prior to the Gezi Park protests,'' Ipekci said, ''the government had gradually created a climate of fear throughout society, which felt it was under pressure and did not have any channels to express itself - in part due to the self-censorship by the media itself, which was conditioned by the same climate,'' he said. Requests by journalists organisations, he added, had been rejected. And this is why the protests of the past few months in Istanbul's Gezi Park and Taksim Square answered the people's need to ''find new forms of expression''. Journalists also suffered the effects of the crackdown on the protest, with ''over 100 injured in two months'', he said.

    Moreover, according to the International Committee for the Protection of Journalists, six weeks after the anti-government protest 72 journalists had already been fired. ''We are asking the European public opinion,'' Ipekci said, ''to put pressure on the Turkish government to change its laws.

    Even the latest series of 'reforms' for 'democratisation' (which also eliminated the ban on Islamic headscarves in public offices, Ed.) does not mention freedom of the press but only of religion.'' (ANSAmed).

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