A Celebration Turns Into a Somber Recitation of Jailed Turkish Journalists

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Journalists protesting on World Press Freedom Day in Istanbul. Press freedom in Turkey has sharply deteriorated under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Murad Sezer/Reuters

ISTANBUL — With some 163 of their fellow journalists in jail, the men and women of Turkey’s news media are understandably fearful. Many of those who avoided prison as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sweeping crackdown on alleged enemies after a July coup attempt have lost their jobs at media outlets taken over by Mr. Erdogan’s cronies. Some of those still working censor themselves in self-defense.

In such an environment, even getting together to talk about challenges to the fast-fading press freedoms in Turkey’s ever-shrinking democracy is an act of courage. That happened on Wednesday when Platform24, an Istanbul-based nonprofit fighting for journalists’ right to do their jobs, held an event to celebrate World Press Freedom Day with a lecture honoring the late Mehmet Ali Birand, one of the country’s most admired journalists. Given Mr. Erdogan’s tendency for retaliation, the Swedish consul general, Therese Hyden, also deserves credit for hosting the event.

The mood this year, however, was anything but celebratory, and for obvious reasons. Under Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, not just an independent press but many rights and freedoms have sharply deteriorated. Instead, the mood was somber as Platform24’s staff performed a kind of dirge, reading the names of imprisoned colleagues one by one.

“We want them to know, we want their families to know, we want their readers and audiences to know, and we want the government to know that they are not alone,” said Yasemin Congar, one of Platform24’s founders.

“Journalism is not a crime,” she added.

When she and others started the group in 2013, the intent was to promote editorial independence among…

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