UN official urges Turkey to release journalists from jail

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A United Nations official on Friday urged Turkey to release all jailed journalists, saying the government's need to protect citizens following the failed coup in July and a wave of terror attacks was not a "blank check" to restrict freedom of expression.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a weeklong visit, David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said he was "in deep sympathy" with the threats the country faces following the July 15 coup attempt as well as threats from Kurdish militants and Islamic State group.

"The government has the responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens," Kaye said. But he added: "That does not mean that the government has a blank check to do whatever it wants to restrict freedom of expression."

During his mission to Turkey, Kaye met government officials as well as a number of journalists in prison, including journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper whose editor and nine senior staff members were arrested on terror-related charges earlier this month.

"The conclusions I would say are fairly grim and reflect what I think is a deep sense of restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression throughout the country," Kaye said.

Turkey's government has arrested close to 37,000 people since defeating a coup attempt in July, and has dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 others from government jobs for alleged ties to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who has been blamed for the coup. More than 170 media outlets have been closed for alleged links to violent groups.

Kaye said 155 journalists are in detention.

Kaye urged the government to review its broad anti-terrorism laws, repeal its defamation laws that criminalize insults to government officials, reverse its shutdown of media outlets and allow people who were dismissed from government jobs to legally challenge the decisions.

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