The start of the trial against journalists and board members of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet today highlights the urgent need to protect journalism and improve media freedom in Turkey, Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media stated.
"I will closely follow the proceedings that started this morning in Istanbul against 17 prominent journalists, editors and board members of Cumhuriyet, including Can Dündar, Kadri Gürsel, Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık," Désir said. "Journalism plays an essential role in advancing democracy. I therefore call on Turkey to drop the charges, release all journalists imprisoned for their work, and initiate much needed policy reforms to protect media freedom in the country."
The defendants, most of them in detention since October and December 2016, face prison sentences ranging from 7.5 to 43 years. They were indicted more than five months after their initial detention for charges including "being a member of an illegal organization", "aiding an illegal organization while not being a member" and "employment-related abuse of trust."
The Representative recalled the OSCE's strong condemnation of last year's coup attempt and emphasized the need to safeguard democratically elected governments.
"I fully understand the challenge of fighting terrorism and protecting national security, but it must be done with full respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression," Désir said. "Freedom of expression and security must go hand in hand as the only effective means of building and sustaining a strong and democratic society. An open and accessible free media also provides the space for debate on difficult issues, including identifying peaceful solutions" emphasized the Representative.
Désir also noted additional concerns about the state of freedom of expression in Turkey, affecting not only journalists but many others exercising their right to express critical or dissenting views, including social media users, human rights defenders, and academics. "The measures taken under the current state of emergency constitute unnecessary and disproportionate pressure on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country" he said.
"I reach out to the authorities to engage in thorough policy and legal reforms to protect free expression and media freedom. My Office stands ready to assist Turkey in this very important process." (Photo) - Vienna