Journalists Targeted as Press Freedom Declines in Turkey
By Deni Kamper
Protests broke out in Istanbul on Tuesday after a court ordered the pre-trial arrest and detention of two journalists and one human rights academic charged with disseminating “terrorist propaganda. Journalist Ahmet Nesin, academic Sebnem Korur Financi and Reporters Without Borders’ representative Erol Onderoglu, were arrested because of their support for the pro-Kurdish newspaper, Ozgur Gundem.
Following the order, protestors gathered outside the newspaper’s offices chanting, “a free press cannot be silenced” and “thinking cannot be jailed.”
Ozgur Gundem is one of the only independent media outlets in Turkey and has been the target of a number of state investigations and lawsuits. Nesin, Financi and Onderoglu were reportedly involved in a campaign against the state’s legal harassment of the newspaper.
This is only one example of the Turkish government attempting to control the media and silence opposition. As recently as May 2016, journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul of the Turkish daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet, were convicted of publishing state secrets documents after Dundar reported on Turkish arms sales to Islamist groups in Syria.
Dundar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison while Gul, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, received a sentence of five years.
“This is a verdict against journalism and we don’t accept it,” said Gul.
Instances of journalists being arrested and imprisoned in Turkey are becoming increasingly more common. International human rights groups say press freedom in Turkey is in severe decline while Reporters Without Borders (RWB), an international organization that advocates for free speech, went as far to say that Turkey is effectively criminalizing the journalism profession.
RWB currently ranks Turkey at #151 of 180 countries on its World Press Freedom Index, which is determined by analyzing data on abuse and violence committed against journalists as well as media independence and transparency.
Turkey’s penchant for imprisoning journalists who publish unflattering stories about the Turkish government, specifically Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, makes Turkey one of the most dangerous places for journalists.
According to a 2015 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, there are currently 14 journalists being held in prison in Turkey. This number is a significant improvement from only two years ago when Turkey was imprisoning 40 journalists, making it the world’s worst press jailer.
Despite the mild progress, this week’s events have hit press freedom activists particularly hard as one of their own, Reporters Without Borders’ representative, Erol Onderoglu, sits in a Turkish prison cell awaiting trial.
“This is a dark day for media freedom in Turkey,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RWB’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Bihr says Onderoglu has fought tirelessly to defend the rights of journalists over his 20 year career and RWB has called the decision to detain Onderoglu and the two other activists “an unbelievable low for press freedom in Turkey.”