The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) at a joint press conference in Brussels on Tuesday called on the European Union not to allow the challenges of the refugee crisis to deter it from confronting Turkey about its poor press freedom record.
The press freedom groups condemned Turkey's continued crackdown on independent and opposition journalists and news outlets, and criticized the EU's muted response as it seeks Turkey's help in resolving the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
The press conference coincided with the release of the CPJ's annual prison census. While the number of journalists in jail globally as of Dec. 1, 2015 has declined modestly from the record highs of the past three years, in Turkey the number the report cited had doubled from seven to 14.
"The European Union must use the unique leverage of the accession process to push Turkey on press freedom," CPJ EU Correspondent Jean-Paul Marthoz said. "Fundamental reform of Turkey's repressive laws, along with the release of the 14 journalists currently jailed for their work, must be made a precondition for further EU accession talks."
Eleven of the 14 journalists jailed in Turkey listed in the report are being held on anti-state charges, often for reporting on sensitive issues such as the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or Turkey's security operations in the south. The remaining three jailed journalists have not yet been charged.
Among those in jail are Iraqi journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool, who has been detained without charge for more than 100 days after reporting on clashes between PKK fighters and Turkish security forces as part of a team of reporters with the global news channel Vice News; and senior Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who were ordered to be held in pretrial detention in November on charges of espionage and terrorism after reporting on allegations that trucks belonging to the
National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had been used to smuggle arms to rebel groups in Syria.
"If the EU turns a blind eye to the plight of journalists in Turkey, it risks losing credibility with those who support the country's democratization and European integration," the CPJ's Marthoz said. "Any compromises on the fundamental EU principles of press freedom, democratic governance and rule of law would undermine the very nature of the EU project."
Joining Marthoz at the press conference were Mehmet Koksal, project officer at the European Federation of Journalists, and Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders.