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Freedom of expression in Turkey 'under attack': Amnesty

More than 100 Turkish journalists protest in front of the Syrian Embassy in Ankara on August 31, 2012. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

ANKARA: Amnesty International criticised Wednesday European Union hopeful Turkey's dismal record on freedom of expression and called for legislative reforms to bring "abuses to an end."

"Freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey," the London-based group said.

"Hundreds of abusive criminal prosecutions are brought every year against political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others," it added.

"These prosecutions represent one of the most deeply entrenched human rights problems in Turkey today."

Turkey is under fire from rights groups for its escalating crackdown especially on the media, with critics saying its draconian laws are putting a record number of journalists behind bars.

The country is the leading jailer of journalists worldwide, imprisoning even more than China or Iran, according to an October report by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The committee identified 76 journalists imprisoned in Turkey as of August 1, including 61 who were put behind bars purely because of their journalism.

But the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vehemently denies the charges, insisting no one has been jailed because of their profession but rather because of links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Amnesty said despite progress in Turkey in discussing taboo subjects more freely such as the criticism of the once-powerful army, problems still remain in expressing "dissenting opinions" on controversial issues, most notably the Kurdish problem.

Erdogan this month criticised editors of the liberal Milliyet newspaper which published the details of a meeting between jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and pro-Kurdish lawmakers in his island prison cell as part of a new peace push to end the three decades of hostilities.

"If this is journalism, then let it be damned," Erdogan said.

Critics accuse Erdogan's government of using courts to silence dissenting voices, saying the large number of court cases have resulted in weak news coverage of the trials.

Amnesty said in order to prevent "these abuses from continuing," Turkey must overhaul its laws to improve freedom of expression.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch also called for a legal reform which it said would help bolster the peace process between Turkey and the PKK, which is branded a terrorist organisation by Ankara and much of the international community.

PKK leader Ocalan last week called for a historic ceasefire, telling his fighters to lay down their arms and withdraw from Turkish territory.

The move capped months of clandestine peace talks between Turkey's spy agency and the state's former nemesis Ocalan with an ultimate goal of ending a conflict that has cost some 45,000 lives, mostly Kurdish.

 

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