Recalling the recent detentions and imprisonments of journalists in Turkey, CPJ emphasized that these violations against press freedom and freedom of expression obscure the positive steps taken by the Turkish government, including the dramatic reduction in the number of journalists imprisoned for their work in Turkey.
The letter, which was written by CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, said that Dutch freelance journalist Frederike Geerdink, who was detained on Feb. 1 in Diyarbakir and indicted for "making propaganda" for the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) via social media, may face up to five years in prison if sentenced.
CPJ also noted that a police raid on major media outlets in December was perceived as targeting those affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, inspired by the teachings of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.
“The editor-in-chief of Zaman newspaper, Ekrem Dumanlı, was detained in one of the raids and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, was arrested in the other. The two arrest warrants were part of a group of 31 issued by Turkish prosecutors that month on charges of ‘establishing a terrorist group,' committing forgery and slander, press reports said, citing İstanbul Chief Prosecutor Hadi Salihoğlu,” the letter said.
“While these are serious accusations, authorities are yet to produce evidence that Dumanlı or Karaca have committed any crime. Meanwhile, Dumanlı is banned from traveling abroad and Karaca has been kept in pretrial detention since Dec. 14. No court dates to hear the two men's cases have been set,” the letter added.
Karaca was detained along with Dumanlı on Dec. 14, 2014 in the government-backed media operation that mainly targeted media outlets close to the Gülen movement. Karaca was then arrested on Dec. 19 on suspicion of heading a terrorist group based on a TV series that was broadcast years ago on his television station.
He and three former police officers were arrested while Dumanlı was released. Karaca had refused to defend himself before the court as he viewed it as lacking impartiality and independence.
The Dec. 14 anti-media police operation has largely been seen as a politically motivated crackdown on media critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan and pro-government circles accuse the Gülen movement of being behind a major corruption and bribery investigation that implicated many high-ranking state officials, including Erdoğan and four former ministers, on Dec. 17, 2013.
The CPJ also remembered the police raids on the Cumhuriyet daily and a criminal investigation against the paper and two of its columnists, Hikmet Çetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, launched in mid-January by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office because the columnists had republished the front page of the first edition of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo after the deadly attack on the satirical publication on Jan. 7.
The letter said Çetinkaya and Karan had received death threats on social media.
Here is the full text of the letter.
Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu,Published on Today's Zaman, 10 February 2015, Tuesday
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express alarm at a fresh wave of anti-press actions in Turkey and to ask that you use the power of your office to reverse the measures.
In October, when we met in Ankara, we welcomed your pledge that your office would provide protection to journalists threatened in retaliation for their work. In meetings with other government officials, we were assured that Turkey is committed to continuing its judicial reform to improve conditions for a free press and free expression.
However, we also came away from some meetings with a sense of official hostility toward the media, and we have seen that hostility play out in a series of attacks on press freedom in recent months. These include the harassment and prosecution of journalists because of their activities on social media; the blocking of reporters' social media posts; a ban on coverage of a sensitive story; and detentions, police raids, and criminal investigations of journalists. These acts have a chilling effect on news coverage in Turkey.
The details of significant cases include:
-- On Feb. 1, a prosecutor in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır indicted Dutch freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink for "making propaganda" for the banned PKK and Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) via social media. If sentenced, Geerdink faces up to five years in prison.
Geerdink has worked as a journalist in Turkey since 2006, focusing on Kurdish issues, politics, and human rights and writing for a variety of international publications as well as the Turkish news website Diken, where she has a regular column. It was her Diken column as well as social media posts that, as Diyarbakır prosecutor Hakan Özdemir alleged, praised the PKK and KCK while denigrating the Republic of Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The prosecutor also stated in the indictment that Geerdink was trying to portray Turkey as a country that helps the militant group Islamic State. Geerdink denied all the accusations, saying she only acted as a journalist who had been posting her stories and opinion pieces on social media. A court hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 8.
Prior to being indicted, Geerdink was detained and interrogated for three hours, and her home in Diyarbakır was searched by terrorism police on Jan. 6.
-- In mid-January, police raided the printing house that produces the daily Cumhuriyet and the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal investigation against the paper and two of its columnists, Hikmet Çetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, according to news reports. The columnists had republished the cover of the first edition of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo since the deadly attack on the satirical publication on Jan. 7.
Çetinkaya said he and Karan had received death threats on social media.
Instead of speaking out against those threats, top Turkish leaders called Cumhuriyet's decision to republish Charlie Hebdo content a provocation. Most notably, you said on Jan. 15, that the paper was provoking people to launch an attack on it.
-- Also in mid-January, a Turkish court imposed a ban on coverage of allegations that gendarmerie in the southern Adana and Hatay provinces in January 2014 had intercepted trucks, allegedly belonging to the Turkish intelligence agency, on suspicion of smuggling arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. According to the state media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, the gag order was necessary because of an ongoing investigation into the case.
Turkish authorities have repeatedly gagged coverage of sensitive issues, depriving the public of its right to be informed, CPJ research shows.
-- On Jan. 15, an Istanbul court ordered Twitter to block tweets that linked to a July article in the online newspaper Radikal that reported on the allegedly illegal wiretapping by police. Access to the Radikal article itself was also blocked in Turkey.
-- At the end of December, Police raided the Istanbul home of Turkish TV journalist Sedef Kabaş, detained her briefly, and confiscated her laptop and phone, she told the local press. Now, similar to Dutch freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink, Kabaş faces up to five years in jail in connection with her social media posts. She is being prosecuted for a tweet in which she named a prosecutor who had dropped corruption proceedings against high-level Turkish officials, the Turkish press reported. The charges against her include "targeting persons involved in the fight against terrorism," news reports said.
-- Also in December, police raided two media outlets perceived as affiliated with a movement led by US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. The editor-in-chief of Zaman newspaper, Ekrem Dumanlı, was detained in one of the raids and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, was arrested in the other. The two arrest warrants were part of a group of 31 issued by Turkish prosecutors that month on charges of "establishing a terrorist group," committing forgery, and slander, press reports said, citing Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Hadi Salihoğlu.
While these are serious accusations, authorities are yet to produce evidence that Dumanlı or Karaca have committed any crime. Meanwhile, Dumanlı is banned from traveling abroad and Karaca has been kept in pretrial detention since Dec. 14. No court dates to hear the two men's cases have been set.
These recent violations against press freedom and freedom of expression obscure the positive steps taken by your government, including the stark reduction of the number of journalists imprisoned in relation to their work in Turkey.
Mr. Prime Minister, Turkey's leaders have said that they support a free press, at least in principle, but the same leaders -- including yourself -- have also publicly criticized journalists and disparaged their work. This official attitude facilitates the actions of police, prosecutors, courts, and regulators against the media, and contributes to an environment in which hostile elements of society may feel free to threaten or even physically attack journalists.
We ask that you use the authority of your high office to speak up in defense of press freedom and against attacks on journalists, creating a more tolerant atmosphere for the media.
Thank you for your time and consideration.