The European Union (EU) has slammed Turkey's imprisonment of journalists and lack of press freedom in a highly critical report on the aspiring EU member.
The 92-page document describes frequent threats, intimidation, physical attacks, and the imprisonment of journalists on anti-terror charges in a country that has seen "significant backsliding" in areas of freedom of expression.
VICE News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool has been held in a Turkish prison for 75 days on baseless and absurd charges. He was working alongside colleagues Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury — who were also held for 11 days — as they reported on clashes between police and youth members of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in the country's southeast at the end of August.
While the report praises Turkey for housing Syrian refugees and cooperating with the migration crisis, it is very critical of a lapse in freedom of expression and an undermining of the judiciary under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In particular, criminal cases against journalists are of "considerable concern." The report calls for Turkey to act against intimidation of journalists in all its forms, and "defuse the tense political climate which creates an environment curtailing freedom of speech."
"Frequent threats and various types of intimidation from state and non-state agents against journalists and media outlets continue to be an issue of serious concern," it continues.
Noting that the number of journalists in prison in Turkey currently exceeds 20 — many charged under anti-terror laws — the report describes attacks on media outlets and the curtailment of freedom of media.
The document also notes that Turkey has made more requests to Twitter to delete or suspend accounts than any other country in the world.
The European Commission report on Turkey's EU candidacy will inform the country's proposed enrolment into the bloc. Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005, but the country's progress to meet the requirements of joining the group has been slow.
The report was originally slated for release in October, before Turkey's general election — but it has only emerged after President Erdogan's AKP party returned to power with a majority on November 1. The publication of this report was postponed until after this election.
Rasool's continued detention has been condemned by rights groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty and PEN International. A petition calling for his release has gained nearly 80,000 signatures.
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Watch Jake Hanrahan discuss his detention in Turkey, and why Mohammed Rasool must be released: