For the second consecutive year Turkey has been ranked as the world's worst offender for jailing reporters going about their work, an annual report on press freedom released on December 13 by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) watchdog has determined.
Some 73 journalists remained behind bars in Turkey in comparison with 81 last year, according to the New York-based CPJ, while dozens of others face trial, typically on anti-state, terror-related charges. Turkey, which has also shut down swathes of media outlets, has remained under a state of emergency since the attempted coup of July last year. The emergency powers give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the right to rule by decree when he sees fit. Ankara's jailing of journalists, including Turkish-German reporter Deniz Yucel, held without charge since January, has torn relations with Berlin and the European Union. Turkey's hopes of one day joining the EU as a member state are now very much in the balance given its slide towards authoritarianism.
The CPJ census concluded that 262 journalists around the world were in government custody as of December 1, with more than half of those in Turkey, China and Egypt.
Another top jailer of journalists is Azerbaijan, where 10 were behind bars. Five were incarcerated in both Iran and Russia; four in Uzbekistan; and two in both Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan had each imprisoned one.
The US and other Western powers, noted the CPJ, were doing little to end the currently grim climate for press freedom.
"Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behaviour, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping," the watchdog said. Though since becoming US President in January Donald Trump has met with the leaders of Turkey, China and Egypt, he has made no public reference to human rights abuses in the countries, the CPJ said. It added that Trump's attacks on the US media, with his regular unproven claims of “fake news”, had essentially consolidated the legal frameworks of authoritarian states that enable leaders to preside over the detention of journalists.
The available evidence, the CPJ observed, "reflects a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press."
Nearly three-quarters of the imprisoned journalists worldwide have been jailed using "broad and vague terror laws" to press anti-state charges, it added.
The German foreign ministry has concluded that around 50 Germans are presently imprisoned in Turkey, of whom nine are being held for what Berlin sees as political reasons.