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Politics and Media

Penguins became the symbol of the censorship in the media in Turkey in 2013, when during the Gezi protests CNN Türk, a news channel, aired a documentary about penguins, instead of reporting the events.

AKP's rise

Justice and Development Party (AKP), founders of which include current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, identifies itself as a "conservative democrat" party. The party has enjoyed parliamentary hegemony since its first electoral success in 2002, forming a single majority government in four elections since then. AKP briefly lost its majority in the parliament for the first time in the 7 June 2015 general elections, although receiving the highest number of votes. In the repeated election on 1 November 2015, the party regained the number of deputies to form a majority parliament.

Over the 15 years since then, Turkey has become a country where nearly half of the population oppose to Erdoğan and the ruling party. While AKP had the support of liberals initially, especially during the 2010 Constitution referendum, there has been growing resentment against the party, which reached its peak during the widespread antigovernment protests of 31 May 2013. Demands for a free press were central during the 2013 Gezi protests. The demonstrations named as Gezi protests/events started with the police intervenining in the sit-in protest in Gezi Park at Istanbul's Taksim Square against the unlawful construction of Artillery Barracks as part of the Taksim Pedestrianization Project. The calls for media freedom were one of the central points of Gezi Park protests. NTV and Habertürk channels faced protests in front of their doors, with protestors shouting "How much does it cost to get online?" Penguins became symbols of censorship due to the penguin documentary CNN Türk was airing during and instead of the protests.

22 journalists were dismissed during the protests, 37 were forced to resign. State broadcaster TRT started "Gezi investigations" into its 15 personnel. The police injured 105 journalists in the first month of Gezi, took 28 under detention. 3 journalists were jailed, 12 journalists resigned because of their outlets' policies.

In 2015, between two elections, the ongoing peace/solution process between the government and the PKK ended.

The AKP, which won 49.9 percent of the 2011 elections, succeeded in the election as the first party on June 7, but declined by about 9 percent to about 40 percent. In the November 1st election in 2015, AKP increased its votes by 20 percent compared the previous election on June 7. In the presidential elections held on June 24, 2018, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected as the President with 52.6% of the total votes. 

Media in a chokehold

In Turkey major media outlets not only do not/can not report news free from government pressure but also find themselves in the position of "the government's mouthpiece." President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan monitors both international and national media and journalists very closely; can intervene in media outlets' editorial policies; targets media outlets and journalists, by using their names or not. The number of those accused of "insulting the President" under Turkish Penal Code's Article 299 is not known. According to Bianet Media Monitoring Report, between September-December 2016, 28 people were in court for Article 299. Seven of these were journalists. Those who are fighting for media freedom and freedom of expression are opposing the government for not only the file suits opened against journalists and for the jailed journalists, but also for trying and turning the media pro-government.

Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which has begun to be applied extensively since Erdoğan's election as president in August 2014, has provided a basis for at least 54 journalists to be given prison sentence, deferred prison sentence or fine.

According to BIA Media Monitoring Report, in 2018, at least 20 journalists were convicted to 38 years, 5 months and 4 days (6 years, 10 months and 12 days of which were deferred) in prison and fines of 35,000 TRY (~6600 USD) in total for criticizing or making allegations against President and Justice and Development Party (AKP).

According to BIA Media Monitoring Report 2017, 17 journalists and columnists were sentenced to 8 years, 4 months and 10 days in prison and to pay a fine of 136,500 TRY in total for "insulting the President." Four journalists were acquitted, one case was canceled because of the statute of limitations.

Coup Attempt and the "State of Emergency"

Over the last two years (July 2016 - July 2018), Turkey had been governed by a state of emergency which was declared five days after the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, for which the AKP holds the Gulenist Organization to account, although having shared the power with the same organization between 2002-2013. Turkey has suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, as part of the Convention's 15th Article. The execution of this Article is still being discussed, in terms of fundamental human rights, especially media freedom and freedom of speech.

On July 19, 2018, the government ended the state of emergency after seven three-month renewal, with the declaration of 32 executive orders in total for two years.

With executive orders (decrees), 53 newspapers, 37 radio, 34 TVs, 20 magazines and 6 news agencies and 29 printing houses have been shut down and, at least 2,500 journalists have become unemployed.

According to updated OHAL report of IHOP, 134327 civil servants have been dismissed from their positions. Only 3981 of them (2.9 percent of total), were turned in their positions.

In total 7508, 6081 academics and 1427 administrative personnel were fired from universities. Only 185 were sent back to work.
People's Democratic Party (HDP) had its 12 parliament members, including the party's co-chairs, jailed. The party's co-mayors have been dismissed or imprisoned.

The number of those who are in jail based on the state of emergency executive decrees is over 50,000.

Jailed journalists

As of December 31, 2018, 123 journalists are in jail. 73 of these journalists are on trial for "Gulenist Terror Organization-Parallel State Structure (FETÖ-PDY)" membership; whereas 38 of them are in jail on charges of links to organizations such as the PKK / PYD / KCK, all are from the various Kurdish media. Of these, 18 were convicted in the cases of ’KCK - PKK - DYG membership or propaganda, 11 were still on trial; 9 was under investigation. All journalists are jailed based on the "anti-terror law."

According to the report published in December 2018 by CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), “Turkey remained the world’s worst jailer” as at least 68 journalists jailed for their work. According to the (CPJ), “even as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the fiercest critic of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi, his government continued to jail more journalists than any other on the planet.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lists Turkey as 157st out of 180 countries in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index. It was as 151st and 155th in 2016 and 2017 respectively.  According to RSF data of 2018, at least 80 journalists in Turkey were jailed or fined under the charges of “terrorist propaganda” or “humiliating the Turkish nation, the Republic of Turkey, and the institutions of state” or “insulting the president”.

AKP has been receiving intense criticism due to the number of jailed journalists for the last five years. International and national journalism organizations, the EU, European Parliament, the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations have been criticizing the government for jailing journalists; media freedom and freedom of speech violations. European Court of Human Rights has convicted Turkey for long detentions of journalists many times.

As part of the solidarity started to bring attention to the pressure faced by Özgür Gündem daily, 56 "guest editor in chiefs" worked with the daily between 3 May - 7 August 2016. The daily was shut down by decrees declared under the state of emergency, however out of the 56 guest editors 50 faced investigation. 36 of these investigations turned into cases and the editors are being on trial based on claims of "terror propaganda."

As of 2019, the trials of the Özgür Gündem daily continue. Investigations have been launched into 50 of the 56 Editors-in-Chief on Watch who have participated in the solidarity campaign with Özgür Gündem. In 11 of these cases, the court has ordered not to prosecute and in 38 cases, a lawsuit has been brought.

A total of 188 months, 15 days of imprisonment and a fine of 67 thousand TL were issued. In these cases, 4 people were acquitted. In this cases, Murat Çelikkan, co-director of Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice and Memory Center), was sentenced to 1 year and 6 months of imprisonment. After being imprisoned for 68 days, he was released on probation. Journalist Ayşe Düzkan was also sentenced to 18 months in prison and as of April 2019 she is currently in prison.

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Representative to Turkey and BİA Media Monitoring Reporter Erol Önderoğlu, writer Ahmet Nesin and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) Chair Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur-Fincancı participated in the "Editors-in-Chief on Watch" campaign launched in solidarity with Özgür Gündem newspaper, which was closed by the Statutory Decree no. 675, then a lawsuit was filed against them for "propagandizing for a terrorist organization." They had 10-days pre-trial detention, then they have released. Yet, their hearings have still been continuing by April 2019.

In 2016, the indictment of 19 people from the Cumhuriyet newspaper, including executives, writers and other employees, was approved in 2017 for aiding a terrorist organization as a non-member.” In 2018, the decision of the case was announced. According to the decision announced in April 2018, for 15 people, a total of 81 years people were sentenced to 45 days of imprisonment, three of which were acquitted. Can Dündar and İlhan Tanır's files were separated. Journalists Akın Atalay, Orhan Erinç, Kadri Gürsel, Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Aydın Engin, Hikmet Çetinkaya, Ahmet Şık, Kemal Güngör, Hakan Kara, Önder Çelik, Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, Emre İper, Bülent Utku were convicted and judicial control was granted.

On February 19, 2019, the İstanbul Regional Court of Justice, 3rd Penal Chamber (the court of appeal) has upheld the verdict on the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s case. Those who were sentenced to to prison for less than five years: Kadri Gürsel, Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Emre İper, Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku, Hakan Kara. On April 25, 2019, Musa Kart, Emre İper, Önder Çelik, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Hakan Kara and Güray Öz were imprisoned for the execution of their sentences. 

Media Ownership Key to Business 

In 2013, telephone conversations allegedly between media owner, media executives and government officials were leaked. These leaks pointed to a high degree of government/state intervention in the media. According to critical media academics, tenders and various "support" are given to business groups that do not criticize the government.

TMSF, which manages the banking system of Turkey, has played a major role in changing the large companies within the media sector, by transferring the companies it held to pro-AKP business people.

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