ANKARA Nov 15 European Union candidate
Turkey needs to change its attitude to media freedom and laws
under which more than 50 Turkish journalists languish in Turkish
jails, the head of the Council of Europe human rights body said
"We clearly have a situation that needs to be solved so that
Turkey moves forward," secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland told
a group of foreign journalists in Ankara during a visit.
Jagland said Turkey had some 16,000 cases pending in the
Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, of which about
1,000 concerned media freedom, a situation he said had "a
chilling effect" on freedom of expression.
"Turkish courts and prosecutors need to have a better
understanding of European standards of what journalists are
allowed to write and say without being put in jail," said
Jagland, who met members of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's
government to discuss media freedom.
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan's party has earned
praise for political reforms aimed at bringing Turkey closer to
European Union norms and for liberalising an economy that is now
among the fastest-growing in the world.
But his government also faces accusations of trying to tame
the media and smother opposition. Critics say the prime minister
uses Turkey's harsh defamation laws to intimidate journalists
and counter personal criticism.
According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation
in Europe, there are 57 journalists in Turkish jails although
Turkish media groups put the number at nearly 70.
Most are held under broad antiterrorism laws, for allegedly
promoting terrorist propaganda, that allow for suspects to be
detained for lengthy periods before being formally charged.
Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries reviewed for
the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, a
media freedom pressure group, from 101st in 2007 due to the
proliferation of lawsuits.
It is not uncommon for investigative reporters in Turkey to
face prosecution. Journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, known
for articles they wrote about an alleged 2003 plot to topple
Erdogan's government, have been in jail since March.
The government rejects accusations that it curbs media
freedom and says journalists are not in jail because of what
they wrote, but for non-journalistic activities.
Gerard Stoudmann, special advisor to Jagland and media
freedom rapporteur, said Turkey had "difficulty" understanding
what is investigative journalism.
"Besides the issue of law, it's an issue of mindset, of how
the judiciary and prosecutors see their roles," Stoudmann said.
(editing by Rosalind Russell)