Ex-Guardian editor Peter Preston leads Turkey mission to free jailed journalists

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston led an International Press Institute (IPI) mission to help imprisoned journalists in Turkey on Sunday.

There are believed to be more imprisoned journalists in Turkey than in any other nation, and MPs in the UK have expressed concern over the situation.

Preston, 74, who was once world chairman of the IPI, estimates that there are between 75 and 100 journalists in Turkish prisons, most of them awaiting trial.

The team also includes Milton Coleman, a senior editor on the Washington Post, Michael Lake, a former diplomatic editor of The Guardian, and other journalists from countries including Germany, Nigeria and India.

The team will be meeting with MPs and ministers in Ankara and Istanbul during the four-day trip, between Sunday 2 and Thursday 6 December.

“Of course we understand the security threats and internal tensions Turkey faces, so there’ll be no foolish lecturing or hectoring here,” Preston told Press Gazette.

“But we also understand the critical importance of a free press to Turkey’s democratic standing in Europe and America, and I hope we’ll be able to make Ankara think hard about the damage that locking up its reporters and editors inflicts.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, a cross-party group of MPs, last week put forward an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons campaigning for media freedom in Turkey.

The EDM, signed by 26 MPs, states that “this House condemns the continued imprisonment of approximately 76 journalists in Turkey, the highest number in the world, on what appear to be politically motivated charges”.

The group’s statement also “expresses alarm” over the “arbitrary nature” of the prosecutions and claims the journalists are not being treated fairly.

The MPs, particularly concerned for the deterioration of Kurdish media freedom, also point out that a number of journalists in the country are currently on an indefinite hunger strike.

The statement concludes: “[We echo] the call of the European Federation of Journalists that Turkey should make urgent reforms to protect press freedom and drop charges against journalists being prosecuted under anti-terror and anti-state laws.”

Earlier this year the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report claiming the Turkish government is “engaging in a broad offensive to silence critical journalists through imprisonment, legal prosecution and official intimidation”.

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