Turkey frees two journalists amid heavier regulations for foreign media groups
Two jailed Turkish journalists have been released after being convicted of breaking the state secrets law, according to their lawyer.
Turkey has been one of the world’s largest jailers of journalists for several years running.
The 2020 trial followed a news report that a Turkish intelligence officer had been killed in Libya while Turkey was supporting the embattled UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
In September 2021, an Istanbul court sentenced Aydin Keser, Ferhat Celik and Murat Agirel of the Yenicag newspaper to 4⅔ years in prison each on charges of violating the Turkish Intelligence Agency law.
The court also sentenced then OdaTV editor-in-chief Baris Pehlivan and reporter Hulya Kilinc to 3¾ years each on the same charges.
They were released after a few hours in prison, their lawyer Huseyin Ersoz told the media.
The advocacy group Expression Interrupted said during Q4 of 2021, 203 journalists faced trial in 98 separate cases. An estimated 18 of them were convicted and sentenced to more than 24 years in total.
Reporters Without Borders last year put Turkey 153rd out of 180 nations on its Press Freedom Index.
Turkey’s media watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), has warned three international organisations, including the US mouthpiece Voice of America, that they could be banned from the country if they fail to apply for online broadcast licences.
Foreign websites have avoided the populist government’s grip on the domestic media and have seen growing numbers of clicks.
Most mainstream media in Turkey is controlled by conglomerates that directly benefit from state contracts and are universally positive about the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The broadcast authority said the Turkish-language websites of VOA, Deutsche Welle and Lyon-based Euronews needed to apply for licences because videos were uploaded to their sites.
VOA’s Turkish service has around 270,000 Twitter followers and Deutsche Welle has approximately 874,000.
The regulator can use the courts to ban the websites if they fail to apply for a licence.
The ruling AK Party dominates the RTUK board.
In 2018, Turkey revised regulations to allow RTUK to supervise online broadcasts and Netflix and Amazon Prime have since received licences.
Turkey already monitors social media and has stifled access to platforms like Twitter.
Torture under pre-trial detention and transnational kidnappings of Turkish dissidents are rising but receive little domestic media attention.
Turkey’s domestic media is heavily controlled by the ruling party. Picture credit: Eurasia Times