It's not fair to accuse the Turkish government of journalist detentions when it is an ongoing legal issue with possibly many more episodes, Turkish Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc said at an European ministerial meeting on freedom of expression.
Arinc spoke in the Serbian capital Belgrade at a Council of Europe conference on Thursday, explaining legal measures Turkey put in place for facilitating journalists' work and eliminating risks they might encounter in exercising their profession.
Following Arinc's remarks, Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, Head of European Federation of Journalists, criticized the large number of journalists behind bars in Turkey and a life-long prison sentence given to Turkish columnist Fusun Erdogan.
Arinc took the floor again to clarify where the Turkish government stands on the issue, while stressing a distinction, in terms of legal action, between journalistic activities and acts that carry criminal liability.
"A person cannot be granted impunity for the crimes they committed on the basis of their journalist identity," Arinc told the audience. "This is a human being, and thus should be held to account for any crimes they have been convicted of outside the realm of their profession.”
The Deputy Premier noted that detention of journalists constituted a first step in lengthy legal proceedings, with the suspects retaining the capacity to appeal to decisions on different levels, such as at the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
"I believe it's not necessarily fair or right-minded to accuse Turkey for such judicial processes that can take many turns along the way."
Arinc said the sixty-odd detained journalists - out of over a hundred thousand people jailed in Turkey - are suspected of involvement in crimes such as establishing, running or belonging to an armed terrorist organization, attempting to forcibly change the constitutional order or force a government out of power, in addition to attempted manslaughter and illegal possession of arms, among other charges.
"How can we consider these crimes within the same context as the profession of journalism," Arinc said emphatically.
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