EU calls on Turkey to improve freedom of expression

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The head of a pan-European rights body on Tuesday called on EU hopeful Turkey, which has more jailed journalists than any other country in the world, to improve its dismal record on freedom of expression.

"There are still 450 cases pending against Turkey in the freedom of expression" domain before the European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland told a conference in Ankara.

"This is simply too much," he said, adding that "the need for action is evident".

Turkey is now the leading jailer of journalists worldwide, imprisoning even more than China or Iran, according to an October report by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Jagland called on the country of 75 million to enact legislative reforms to comply with European standards in the area.

"Freedom of expression may offend, may shock, but protecting journalism and freedom of expression is protecting democracy."

He spoke a day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the European Union for "unforgivable" delays in Turkey's path to possible EU membership.

Erdogan's government has come under fire from rights groups for its escalating crackdown on the media, with critics saying its laws are putting a record number of journalists in jail.

The report by the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 76 journalists imprisoned in Turkey as of August 1, including 61 who were put behind bars purely because of their journalism.

But the government insists no one has been jailed because of their profession but rather as a result of criminal activities.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said at the same conference Tuesday that some of those said to be journalists were "bombers, people convicted of terrorism or for violent actions".

He added that Turkey was working on a new amendment to address the rights concerns

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