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Turkey Continues Its Arrests on Journalists
H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Republic of Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 417.0476
Since we last wrote in January about the freedom of the press problems in Turkey, the problems seem to have multiplied, and so have the protests.
The Turkish Journalists Union now says there are 61 journalists in Turkish jails. Only seven of them are convicted of any crime, and the number does not include the many who have been taken into custody since the beginning of this month.
The head of the union, Ercan İpekçi, is reported as saying, “Previously, journalists were arrested one by one, then in groups of five and now in dozens.” According to the Turkish Journalists Association, literally thousands more journalists are being investigated or prosecuted. Some of those tried recently have been given shocking sentences, as in the case of Emine Demir, former editorial manager of Azadiya Welat, sentenced to prison for 136 years.
There have been mass protest demonstrations by journalists in Ankara and Istanbul, understandably. You are receiving, if not listening to, protests from democratic forces around the world. They include the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Council for Human Rights, the Paris and Brussels bars, Human Rights Watch and many other human rights and press freedom organizations, such as our own. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, recently said “we are trying to make sense of this” – that is, the contradiction between Turkey’s stated policy of support of a free press and the detention of so many journalists. The U.S. State Department endorses his statement.
Much of the criticism focuses on the slow pace of the prosecution of the murderer or murderers of Hrant Dink, which has been dragging on for four years. The European Court of Human Rights has charged that Turkish security forces had foreknowledge of the plot to murder Dink, which would perhaps explain why it is taking so long to bring the case to a conclusion.
The recent detention of journalists is based on an attempt to block reporting on two issues that your government apparently wants to keep quiet – the activities of the PKK, which has been an issue for a long time, and the more recent Ergenekon plot of senior officers and others allegedly aiming to overthrow your government. Both are terrorist organizations and certainly subject to prosecution. But to confuse their activities with those of journalists who report and investigate their activities is wrong.
These subjects should not be taboo. If journalists are intimidated or prevented from reporting on the big issues facing Turkey, then one of the main pillars of democracy collapses.
The Turkish government professes a belief in freedom of the press and subscribes to international conventions on human rights. But in practice, hems in that freedom with vague offenses such as “denigrating the Turkish state.” How absurd these restrictions can become is illustrated by the case of the mayor of Rize who allegedly said, “Kurds should have co-wives in order to solve the Kurdish question.” He was criticized for the statement and was temporarily suspended as mayor by your party. He subsequently apologized, and yet he sued a journalist for criticizing him for not solving Rize’s water shortage. Last month, that journalist, Ahmet Topcu, of the Vira Karadeniz was sentenced to 11 months in jail for an attack on the mayor’s “personal rights.” In other words, while the perpetrator gets a slap on the wrist, the messenger gets sentenced to prison.
The logical sequence to your government’s policies would be to jail all the journalists, and then all the bloggers, and then anyone else who criticized your government. We presume you will stop short of that.
Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Abdullah Gül
Office of the President
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 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
Fax: (011.90.312) 467.2532
Directorate General of Press and Information
Ceyhun Abf Kansu Cad. No. 122
Republic of Turkey
IPS Communication Foundation, Istanbul
Under Secretary of State for Democracy & Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520