Report: Turkey Copying Russia, Using Courts to Target Journalists

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, August 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/VYACHESLAV PROKOFYEV / SPUTNIK /

A report published by Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom on Thursday says Turkish and Russian governments are targeting journalists with an increasing number of court cases, using similar strategies.

“In authoritarian regimes, a common pattern emerges wherein the control over media and the judiciary is established. Both Russia and Turkey are following different stages of this playbook,” Baris Altintas, Co-Director of Media and Law Studies Association, MLSA, and one of the authors of the report, told BIRN.

Altintas recalled that a significant number of journalists in Russia have been forced to flee the country.

“They have been unjustly labelled as either foreign agents, extremists, or undesirable organizations, even including media outlets and individuals. In Turkey, the rise of an anti-LGBTQ+ campaign parallels the alarming trends observed in Russia,” Altintas said.

The report, named “Gavels Against Pen: The Judiciary’s assault on journalism in Russia and Turkey”, underlines that Turkish journalists may face the same fate as Russian journalists.

“It is foreseeable that many journalists in Turkey will also face the same difficult choices as their Russian counterparts, and we cannot disregard the potential for a similar outcome leading to conflict, such as Russia’s war on Ukraine,” Altintas added.

The report explains how autocratic governments target journalists with false and fabricated claims, especially about security forces, corruption reporting and reports about politicians.

In Russia, critical journalists have been made enemies of the state.

“Accusations that involve crimes against the state are among the harshest that can be made. In contemporary Russia, they have become an instrument for punishing incompliant journalists. The lengthy detention times, secrecy and gag orders on both the investigation and the court proceedings often involved in such accusations have proven very useful in repressing journalists,” the report said.

“Lawsuits over corruption investigations or financial news have increasingly become among the instruments used to crack down on journalists in Turkey. In dozens of such cases, journalists critical of the government face having to pay large amounts of compensation to lawsuit filers over insult, libel or slander allegations for their reports on monetary dealings of the family or close relatives of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or members of business circles close to the president,” the report said.

The reported added that statistics released by Turkey’s Justice Ministry show that 31,297 investigations into insults to the President were launched in 2020 alone.

Court cases, fines and sentences make the work of journalism even harder.

According to the report, one of the highest compensation payments to be ordered by a court came in a case launched against İsmail Arı, a correspondent of BirGün newspaper.

It reported that the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey TUBİTAK had spent 7.6 million lira (some 300,000 euros) on a tech festival organized by the T3 Foundation, which is managed by Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar and his brother, Haluk Bayraktar.

“The Bayraktar brothers sued Arı and Cumhuriyet after the news report was published, seeking 250,000 lira (some 10,000 euros) in compensation. The court ruled that they should pay 200,000 lira, one of the highest compensation demands in the history of Turkey’s press trials,” the report noted.

The report was funded by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and prepared for publication by the MLSA from Turkey, the Berlin-based Journalists and Lawyers for Free Speech Association, JAM and the Media Protection Group, MMDC from Russia.

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