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Number of jailed journalists nearly doubles in Turkey

April 5, 2012 |  2:19 pm

Turkishjournalist

Turkey is jailing nearly twice as many journalists as a year ago, and sentencing them to as long as 166 years behind bars, according to a report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Ninety-five journalists are now imprisoned in Turkey, up from 57 a year ago.

"The laws need to be changed so journalists are not jailed for their work," Dunja Mijatovic, its representative on freedom of the media, said Monday. She called the numbers "worrisome."

Turkish journalists risk running afoul of sweeping laws aimed at stopping propaganda from terrorist organizations. Kurdish newspapers, for instance, are often accused of conspiring with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, deemed a terrorist organization by the government.

Simply reporting on a sensitive topic, such as terrorism, is often seen by Turkish courts as supporting it, the report found.

Once jailed, journalists may wait years before their cases go to trial.

"Exceptionally long imprisonment sentences" are common, the report said, including "double life sentences." One Turkish journalist faces 150 court cases. Another could be slapped with a maximum sentence of 3,000 years if convicted.

J. Michael Kennedy reported in The Times on the jailing of journalists in Turkey earlier this year, including reporters who wrote about government corruption. Hundreds of people, including politicians and military leaders, have been arrested as suspects in a plot to overthrow the government, he wrote, a pattern that worries the European Union as Turkey lobbies to join the group:

Turkey is often held up in the United States and Europe as a model of how democracy can work in a Muslim country. But human rights activists say the arrests of journalists is putting a damper on press freedoms that have been steadily eroding in recent years....

Until recently, the response of the Turkish government has generally been to dismiss the criticism. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan characterized it as nothing more than a "smear campaign" to discredit the judicial system.

"We have a situation here that Western intellectuals have never experienced," Erdogan recently told a group of media executives. "In the West, journalists do not take part in coup plots, they do not write books to lay the ground for coups."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Turkish journalist Ahmet Sik hugs friends after he was released from prison in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 12. A Turkish court ordered the release of Sik and three other journalists imprisoned for more than a year on charges that they were involved in an alleged coup plot. Credit: Sinan Gul / European Pressphoto Agency / Anadolu Agency

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