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Update on Turkey

2018 XpA Scores:
Freedom of Expression – 0.07 Civic Space – 0.07
Digital – 0.07 Media – 0.09
Protection – 0.11 Transparency – 0.04


In 2018, Turkey was the world leader in jailing journalists for the third year in a row; at the time of writing, there are 138 journalists in prison in the country.[1] Between 2016 and 2018, seven journalists were sentenced to five life sentences and 45 years in prison for the ‘attempted coup’ and ‘targeting the security of the state’, while 116 journalists were sentenced to more than 602 years in prison for terrorism-related offences.[2]

The XpA 18/19 reveals Turkey to be the world’s second-largest Decliner for freedom of expression in the last decade – a deterioration particularly apparent in the Protection and Transparency scores.

Turkey has among the bottom 20 scores for freedom of expression. With power removed from democratic institutions and invested personally in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, dissenters are jailed and harassed, and the judiciary has been purged of opposition.

Figure 29: 


Erdoğan re-elected

Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in Turkey in June 2018. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected President, and the ruling Justice and Development Party retained control of parliament through a coalition.

The election campaigns took place under a state of emergency, which had been imposed and repeatedly renewed after July 2016’s attempted military coup, and in a climate of media censorship and repression of perceived government enemies and critics that persisted throughout the year.

Concentration of power in the hands of Erdoğan continued. The election brought into force the presidential system of governance agreed in a 2017 referendum, which lacks checks against abuse of executive power, diminishes the powers of parliament, and consolidates presidential control over most judicial appointments.[3]

Courts rule against journalists

During 2018, courts issued verdicts in several major, politically motivated trials of journalists, alongside unsupported allegations of connections with terrorist organisations or the coup attempt.

In February, Ahmet Altan (editor and journalist), Mehmet Altan (economics professor), and Nazlı Ilıcak (journalist) were sentenced to life imprisonment on trumped-up coup-related charges. A court bailed Mehmet Altan in June, after a Constitutional Court of Turkey ruling and a March European Court of Human Rights ruling ordered his release. Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak remain jailed; the regional appeal court upheld their convictions on 2 October.

Fourteen staff from Cumhuriyet newspaper – including journalists, executives, and the editor – were also convicted on trumped-up terrorism charges that used only their journalistic writing as evidence. They were given sentences ranging from two to eight years. Three were acquitted.

After two years in pre-trial detention, writers Ahmet Turan Alkan, Şahin Alpay, and Ali Bulaç were handed sentences of nearly nine years in July, along with numerous other staff at Zaman newspaper.

Journalists working for the Kurdish media in Turkey continued to be arrested and jailed repeatedly, obstructing critical reporting from the southeast of the country. Police raided pro-Kurdish newspaper Free Democracy (Özgürlükçü Demokrasi), detained its journalists and other workers, and gave its assets to the state. The newspaper was closed by decree in July, and 21 printworkers and 14 journalists are being prosecuted in separate trials.

Media shutdown

The blocking of websites and removal of online content continued throughout 2018, when 110,000 social media accounts were investigated and 7,000 users taken into custody.[4]

170 media outlets were shut down under state of emergency decrees, with at least 3,000 media workers dismissed. Only 21 have been reopened. Under a presidential decree, the public broadcaster was brought under the control of the executive.

The issuing of press cards and licensing have become increasingly arbitrary, with thousands cancelled and new broadcasting criteria introduced.[5]

Demonstrations face prosecution and violence

At least 18 students were held in pre-trial detention for protests against Turkey’s offensive in Afrin, and many more were prosecuted for crimes such as ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’ and ‘insulting the President’.

In August, police violently dispersed and briefly detained 27 of the organisers of the Saturday Mothers’ – relatives of victims of enforced disappearances seeking accountability – long-running peaceful weekly vigil in Istanbul.

Civil space shrinks even further

In August, Amnesty International Turkey’s Chair, Taner Kılıç, was released after more than 13 months behind bars. He remains on trial, together with eight other prominent defenders from Turkey and two foreign nationals working on human rights, on bogus terrorism-membership charges. President Erdoğan refused to release civil society leader Osman Kavala, calling him the ‘Soros of Turkey’;[6] Kavala has been held in pre-trial detention since November 2017.

Co-President of the Human Rights Association in Turkey, Eren Keskin, has had 120 cases lodged against her, mostly for articles published by other journalists during her time as editor-in-chief of government-critical newspaper Özgür Gündem. The majority of rulings so far have been against her; six ruled against her and had all appeals exhausted, and around 70 ruled against her and were awaiting appeal.[7]

Conflict and repression come hand in hand

Armed clashes between the military and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the southeast continued through 2018, mainly in rural areas. The government continued its repressive measures, including pre-trial detention against elected parliamentarians, mayors, and municipalities from pro-Kurdish parties, although the Peoples’ Democratic Party secured 67 parliamentary seats (11.9% of the vote) in the June election.[8]

In October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul (see Country in Focus: Saudi Arabia.


[1] Expression Interrupted, Journalists in Jail, n.d., available at

[2] ARTICLE 19 et al., Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Turkey, July 2019, available at

[3] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, available at

[4] Bia NET Newsdesk, ‘310 social media accounts investigated in 1 week, 110 thousand in 2018´, Bianet English, 14 December 2018, available at

[5] ARTICLE 19, Russia: Joint UPR Submission Shows Restrictive New Laws on Free Expression, 10 October 2017, available at

[6] Bia NET Newsdesk, ‘Letter from Osman Kavala at 9th Month of His Arrest, BiaNet’, BiaNet English, 20 August 2018, available at

[7] IFEX, Urgent Call for International Action to Prevent Lifelong Sentencing of Eren Keskin, 3 May 2018, available at

[8] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, available at