An Istanbul court on Friday sentenced Turkish journalist Sedef Kabas to more than two years in prison for insulting the president.
Kabas has been in pretrial detention since late January for comments she made about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a political talk show. She is now released pending the outcome of her appeal.
The freelance journalist tops the March list of the most pressing media freedom cases published by the One Free Press Coalition.
The coalition, made up of dozens of media outlets and nonprofits, focused on Kabas and nine other female journalists to raise awareness of the risks women face.
All of the people featured have been assaulted or threatened because of their work. Some, like Kabas and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, are fighting in court.
Of the 293 journalists jailed for their work around the world in December, 40 are women, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The New York-based press freedom group publishes a snapshot of those detained for journalism each year.
The biggest risk for female journalists, however, is online threats and abuse.
Ressa, who founded the Filipino news site Rapperand Washington Post Columnist and freelance journalist Rana Ayyub, who is also on the March list, has both faced extreme online harassment and trolling for their journalism.
“It’s a threat to press freedom,” said Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF). “Women journalists must be able to report freely online without fear, without self-censorship, without fear of their private information being exposed, without threats against their families.
About a third of female journalists say they considered changing careers because of threats, according to the IWMF, which, along with VOA, is part of the One Free Press Coalition.
A 2020 survey of journalists who identify as women found that more than 70% said they had experienced violence online. The joint report was compiled by UNESCO and the International Center of Journalists.
A fifth of respondents said they had experienced attack or abuse related to harassment that started online.
“We are happy to be able to highlight the cases of women on this day, because they are suffering from the same things as men, but with the added obstacle of being targeted because of their gender,” Muñoz told VOA. , referring to International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8.
The IWMF has noted an increase in online attacks against women journalists.
“A very clear trend is the number of attacks women journalists receive online and how much harder it is getting for women journalists to do their job without being attacked day in and day out, with some of the most vile messages and more horrible than you can imagine,” Muñoz said.
Attacks and attempts to discredit or diminish the work of women journalists impact news coverage, Muñoz said.
“The lens through which we have learned about the world over the past decades, if not centuries, has come from the perspective of men and generally men in power,” Muñoz said. “It’s really important that we hear the news from a different perspective and from the very people who experience their communities first-hand.”
For now in Turkey, Kabas is free pending the outcome of his appeal.
“I am happy that she has been released, but her sentence saddens me,” her lawyer Uğur Poyraz told reporters after the hearing.
Poyraz added that as long as a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling against Turkey’s insult laws stands, “any sentencing decision in these cases, whether in the Sedef Kabas or in other matters, is null and void”.
The ECHR said in October that Turkey’s insult law needed to be changed. He added that the high number of detentions under the legislation indicates that it violates freedom of expression.
More than 160,000 investigations have been launched into suspected insults to Erdogan since 2014, the year he became president, Reuters reported. Of these, more than 12,880 resulted in convictions.
The ECHR said Turkish law should be changed to guarantee people the freedom to hold opinions and convey ideas without interference from the authorities.
Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative of the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, believes the law should not be applied against journalists.
“Another journalist spent a month and a half in prison arbitrarily because of this (legal) article,” Onderoglu told VOA’s Turkish service. “We demand an end to the use of justice as a weapon against rights defenders and journalists.”
Hilmi Hacaloglu of VOA’s Turkish service contributed to this article from Istanbul.
Certain information contained in this report comes from Reuters.