Turks have appealed more than 1,000 convictions in free expression cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, with the number of journalists being prosecuted having a "chilling effect" on Turkey's media, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe said Tuesdaym dpa reported.
"Too many cases are pending without anything being done to (change) the law," Thorbjorn Jagland told reporters.
Turkish judges and prosecutors need to change their views "of what journalists are allowed to do and say without being put into jail," Jagland said.
Jagland was visiting Turkey to address a conference called by the Ministry of Justice, partly in response to Council of Europe concerns over the large number of people being prosecuted for what western Europeans would regard as exercising their right to express their opinion.
"Turkey has modernized in many ways, but there are different forces (at work)," Jagland said. "The development of society is going on (at) different levels."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the conference with a pledge to continue reforms despite the country facing alleged terrorism threats.
"The sensitivities of our country on human rights are not lagging behind that of European countries," Erdogan argued.
Erdogan has initiated several prosecutions of journalists, in particular that of a cartoonist who depicted him as a cat entangled with a line of wool.
Asked about Erdogan's prosecution of the cartoonist, Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway, said: "If I were to apply that law, I would have jailed hundreds of journalists."
Jagland said Turkish prosecutors needed to stop "criminalizing defamation." If a person feels insulted, he argued, that person should start a civil lawsuit, not a prosecution under the penal code.
Turkey, which is trying to join the European Union, has been slow to adopt international norms on freedom of expression because of the legacy of its past, Jagland said.
Turkish judges and prosecutors are to take part in an exchange with Court of Human Rights judges and lawyers in Strasbourg in January, said Gerard Stoudmann, the special envoy to the Council of Europe's secretary-general. The Court would "explain the logic of its rulings."
Stoudmann visited Turkey in October to research a report on freedom of expression. He met the detained journalists, Ahmet Shik and Nedim Shener, whose prosecution provoked an outcry in the Turkish press.
"Their case was an example of the systematic problems that there are," Stoudmann said, adding that they had endured six months of detention before they received their indictments.