Black Day for Press Freedom in Turkey Warns IFJ as New Law Threatens Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists today backed a chorus of protests among journalists in Turkey over a draconian new law, which they say sets the country on collision-course for confrontation with European standards of press freedom.

“It is a black day for press freedom when a government enacts a law that threatens journalists with jail, and opens the door to state censorship,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. “Turkey has taken one step forward on the road to democracy, but this new law is two steps backwards when it comes to the free press.”

The new Penal Law, which was adopted in September last year and comes into force tomorrow, 1 April, has enraged Turkey’s journalists who have held marches in Istanbul and Ankara over clauses in the law that stipulate jail terms for journalists in some cases and which they say contains articles that restrict press freedom.

Some 15 journalists associations, in the leadership of Turkish Journalists Syndicate, an affiliate of the IFJ, have signed a protest letter to the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Anger over the new law has led to protests in a number of cities around the country.

The journalists say there are 20 articles in the new law which could restrict the right to report and may lead to arbitrary prosecution of journalists and media. Journalists could be jailed for publishing material deemed obscene when previously the toughest penalty would have been a fine. They want the new penal code suspended so these parts could be amended.

Although jail terms for journalists had been removed from Turkey's press law in reforms last year, and changes in human rights law have been welcomed, concerns remain over the attitude of Mr Erdogan's government to the press. The prime minister has been criticised for suing a political cartoonist who made fun of him.

“The government is back-sliding on its commitment to reform when it comes to press freedom,” said Aidan White. “It is showing signs of a new intolerance that is in conflict with European standards and is setting up a confrontation with will undermine its ambitions to join the European Union.”

The controversy will be discussed this weekend at the annual conference of the European Federation of Journalists, the IFJ’s regional group, which is meeting in Bilbao, Spain.

“Our colleagues in Turkey are right to protest and they will get the support of journalists across the European Union and beyond in their fight for press freedom,” said White, who is also General Secretary of the EFJ. “Turkey cannot pick and choose its own human rights menu. A free press is the lifeblood of democracy and this law as it stands challenges the right to report. It must be changed.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries