As the world celebrated the 25th year of World Press Freedom Day, the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR), alongside the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), held an event in Stockholm in Sweden.
The aim was to echo the voices of Turkish journalists living in exile and advocate for the release of unjustly jailed journalists and media professionals in Turkey – considered one of the biggest jailers of journalists worldwide.
Among the speakers were Mr. Martin Schibbye, Mr. Abdullah Bozkurt and Mr. Levent Kenez. Swedish journalist and press freedom advocate, Mr. Martin Schibbye, was formerly imprisoned in Ethiopia for 438 days on baseless terrorism charges. He spoke about his experience and why it’s important to remember journalists worldwide still in prison for simply doing their job.
“The war on terror has turned into a war on journalism. Imprisoning journalists is a cheap form of censorship without any consequences. I think if one more country gets away with prosecuting journalists, none of us will be safe any longer.” said Martin, to a full room which included many Turkish journalists currently living in exile.
Mr. Abdullah Bozkurt, a prominent Turkish journalist and the Director of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, is currently living in exile in Sweden. He took centre stage and described the unprecedented crackdown on the Turkish media and lack of rule of law in his home country.
“It’s part of the intimidation strategy of the Government of Turkey to silence critical voices. To silence journalists who are covering corruption and so many other important social issues.” said Mr. Bozkurt.
Mr. Levent Kenez was the former editor-in-chief of Meydan Daily, a Turkish newspaper, which was one of approximately 190 media outlets shut down after the failed coup in 2016. He described his time in prison and his harrowing escape from Turkey to Sweden where he now lives in exile.
“There are 254 journalists in prison. Unfortunately, Turkey is the worst country for jailing journalists in the world.” said Mr. Kenez.
He stated that he is not optimistic about the upcoming elections in Turkey and the freedom Turkish journalists will have while covering it.
“Press freedom in Turkey is far worse than one can imagine.” added Mr. Kenez.
The International Observatory of Human Rights held an event in February with the Sorbonne Human Rights Association at the Sorbonne University in Paris. The event highlighted the crackdown on Turkish media, focusing on the case of the Cumhuriyet journalists unjustly convicted on baseless terrorism charges.
Mr. Muratcan Sabuncu is the president of the Sorbonne Human Rights Association. His father, Murat Sabuncu, is the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper and has been unjustly convicted in the trial. His son describes a travesty of justice and the deteriorating rule of law in an interview on IOHRTV.
Valerie Peay, IOHR director, paid tribute to the ten journalists recently killed in Afghanistan and called for the better protection of journalists worldwide and specifically in Turkey.
“The unleashing of hatred toward journalists is steadily on the rise around the world and threatens democracies as more government leaders openly display both verbal and physical violence towards journalists. So far, 38 journalists have been killed this year.” said Ms Peay.
Sweden is the home to the world’s first press freedom law ratified in 1766 and ranks at number two on the annual press freedom index.
“On this 25th year of World Press Freedom Day, IOHR has brought together the voices of Turkish journalists, exiled, but free to speak in Sweden – where press freedom was first enshrined. On this day, we call on Turkish authorities to cease the relentless persecution of journalists and media professionals. Now is the time to let your voice be heard on social media to advocate for the release of all those imprisoned for just being a member of the press.” Ms. Peay added.