December 15, 2018

Press Freedom

Turkey

OPC Assails Turkey’s Crackdown on Media

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
Bakanliklar
06573  Ankara
Republic of Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 417.0476

Your Excellency:

We mark with sadness and deep concern the first anniversary of our letter to you about your government’s repression of freedom of the press in your nation.  Turkey’s march away from free speech, its open scorn of the role of journalists in a democratic society and its continued, focused arrests of journalists are shocking contradictions of what now seem to be hollow promises to be a role model for the region and much of the world.

Since we wrote last year, the problems have only multiplied while the response of your government has degenerated.  With all due respect, while our words and thoughts sound harsh, we hope they are being heard in the forum of democracy — where disagreements can be pointed — as long as shared goals can be realized and embraced.

At least 80 journalists remain jailed for alleged terrorism-related charges that lack foundation.  Just this week, journalist, Nedim Sener, and 13 other defendants appeared in court on a variety of charges relating to abetting a terrorist organization.  A respected journalist, who has a long record of exposing government corruption, Sener was arrested and held for nearly a year without being charged for investigating a terrorist network plotting to overthrow the government.  Many of his colleagues believe he was set up by police officers whom he was investigating.  “It has been 11 months that I have not been given the chance to utter a single word to defend myself,” Sener said to friends during a brief intermission in the proceedings.  “I have been a victim in a revenge operation — nothing else.”
On a single day in December, more than 25 journalists were taken into police custody in the course of operations against journalists in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Van, Adana and Diyarbakir.  The crackdowns on the morning of December 20, 2011, were part of an operation related to the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK), the umbrella organization that includes the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Your government claims that the operation targets “the press and propaganda” arm of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), no evidence has been cited to support this assertion.  Authorities maintain that the KCK is the “urban wing” of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, a claim that has been widely disputed. 

These arrests solidify Turkey’s position just behind Burma and ahead of Ethiopia in detaining members of the press for doing their democratic duties.  We concur with the Committee to Protect Journalists that this “places Turkey firmly in the company of some of the world’s most repressive countries and deeply compromises your government’s commitments to democracy and the rule of the law,” and that these jailed journalists “should be seen as a black mark on your record and a source of shame.”

Apart from these specific incidents, attacks on the media in Turkey have been pervasive, including the Internet filtering system and bans on access to Web sites.  Thousands of criminal cases have been filed against reporters, as the Criminal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act are used routinely to silence critical news coverage.

Turkish legislation provides a rich arsenal of ammunition to silence reporters.  There are laws against spreading propaganda and laws against obtaining sensitive information.  The Constitutional Court annulled Article 26 of the Press Law, thereby extending the statute of limitations for prosecutors to file criminal cases against journalists, and then to keep them under threat of criminal lawsuits, from within two months of publication in a daily newspaper, or four months in all other print media, to within eight years of the publication of all print media.  In short, Turkey is a dangerous place to be a journalist.

Turkey is named as a “key ally” and an important player for the transition to democracy in the Middle East, but it now has been given the title of having “one of the worst freedom pictures in Europe” by the International Press Institute.  “Every day, the nightmare hanging over press freedom increases in intensity,” Emel Soy, head of the Istanbul bureau of the Turkish Journalists Union, said in a statement on December 26.  “This pressure has only one meaning.  That is to intimidate not just the press, but to intimidate and frighten all parts of society and to indiscriminately threaten all opposition.”

Your Excellency, we ask that Turkey end the lawsuits, incarcerations and court sentencing targeting journalists, and that freedom of the press be permitted to take root and flourish in your country.  Until Turkey gets its own house in order, it will never be a fully credible leading country advising others in the region what to do.

Respectfully yours,
Tom Squitieri                                                                                              
Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Abdullah Gül, President
Office of the President
Cumhurbaskanlugu kosku
Cankaya
06100  Ankara
Republic of Turkey

H.E. Namik Tan
Ambassador of Turkey to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
2525 Massachusetts Avenue, NW    
Washington, DC  20008
Fax: (202) 612.6744

Ambassador Baki Ilkin                                                           
Permanent Representative                                                    
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Turkey to the United Nations
821 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017                                                             
Fax: (212) 949.0086

H. E. Francis Ricciardone
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey
Embassy of the United States of America                            
Ataturk Bulvari 110                                                                
Kavaklidere
Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 467.2532

Director
Directorate General of Press and Information
Ceyhun Abf Kansu Cad. No. 122
Balgat-Ankara
Republic of Turkey

Nadire Mater
IPS Communication Foundation, Istanbul
mater@bianet.org

Maria Otero
Under Secretary of State for Democracy & Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC  20520