Since March 2017, ZEIT ONLINE has been documenting the cases of imprisoned journalists in Turkey and, where possible, noting when and why the incriminated journalists are being held (the list can be found at the end of this article). Currently, we are aware of 155 cases. Most have been accused of membership in or support of a terror organization.
On March 20, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey may not view criticism of the government or political leaders as terrorism or supporting terrorist groups. The case addressed the ongoing pre-trial detention of journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan. The court ruled that Turkey had acted unlawfully by continuing to detain the two even after the country's highest court ordered their release at the end of January. Alpay has been under house arrest since mid-March and Altan continues to be held in jail.
Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for the German daily Die Welt, also spent a year behind bars in Turkey. He was released on Feb. 16, 2018, the same day official charges were finally filed against him. Turkish state prosecutors are demanding that he be given a prison sentence of 18 years. Meşale Tolu, from the German city of Ulm, was released from pre-trial detention after seven months, but only on the condition that she not leave the country. She is also required to report to the authorities on a weekly basis. Tolu has been charged with being a member of the left-wing extremist Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) and could face up to 20 years in prison.
The number of journalists imprisoned in Turkey had fallen as 2017 turned to 2018. But the Turkish military offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, which began on Jan. 20, has once again resulted in more journalists being taken into custody. In just the five days between Jan. 20-24, officials made 150 arrests targeting critics of the military operation, according to P24, a platform for independent journalism. Most were released again after several hours or a few days.
Who, When, Why – A ZEIT ONLINE Catalog
Ever since the failed coup attempt in the summer of 2016, Turkey – which remains a European Union accession candidate – has been slipping on the World Press Freedom Index, kept by Reporters without Borders. Turkey has dropped from 151st to 155th in the ranking, which includes 180 countries.
Concrete charges have not been filed against many of the imprisoned journalists and the allegations against them are often vague. In other cases, one can only assume that their arrests were somehow connected to their work as journalists. For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in any case, the mere act of a journalist interviewing a terrorist is incriminating.
Because a state of emergency is still in force in Turkey, pre-trial detention can last for up to five years.