July 28, 2016

IFJ calls on EU to hold Erdoğan accountable for escalating press freedom violations in Turkey

The International and the European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) has called on the European Union (EU) to take additional steps to hold Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accountable for press freedom breaches in Turkey, as government crackdown against free media escalates.

Releasing a press statement, IFJ pointed out the recent detentions and arrests of the journalists as well as closure of media organs, calling on the EU to hold Erdoğan accountable for the escalating press freedom violations in Turkey.

A total of 131 media organs, including 45 newspapers and 16 TV channels, were shut down and more than 30 journalists were detained with decrees having force of law after a state of emergency was declared on July 20, following the failed coup attempt on July 15.

“Since the coup failed … the EFJ and IFJ have been alerting on the number of arrests of journalists and media closure for being allegedly associated with the pro-Gülen movement accused of being behind the failed coup,” the statement read.

The detentions arrests and closures have been on suspicion of membership in the so-called Fetullahist Terrorist Organization [FETÖ], which is used by the government-backed judiciary to frame sympathizers of the Gülen movement.

Philippe Leruth, the IFJ president, was quoted in the statement, saying, “The EU must take a stand and hold President Erdoğan accountable for breaching Human rights convention and muzzling the press. Global journalists are highly concerned by the escalation of attacks against the press in a country that calls itself a democracy. This situation must end immediately.”

EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregard and EFJ general secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez also reportedly called on the EU and the Council of Europe to act.

“We can’t remain silent while journalists are being arrested by dozens right here in front of us. President Juncker and High Representative Mogherini must do everything in their power to end this worrying situation,” Bjerregard said.

A group of rebel soldiers, acting out of chain of command, attempted a military coup at around 10 p.m. on July 15, which left more than 200 people – including civilians – dead.

The Turkish government managed to suppress the coup attempt and launched a large-scale crackdown across the country on media, public servants, judges, prosecutors and teachers, along with rebels within the army. The detentions, arrests and massive purges that followed the crackdown widened and increased after a state of emergency was declared on July 20, concentrating power formally into the hands of Erdoğan by allowing him and his cabinet to make laws by fiat.

Erdoğan has accussed the Gülen movement of being behind the coup attempt and demanded extradition of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen from the US. Thousands of public servants, judges, prosecutors and journalists were detained by the Turkish police for allegedly having links to the Gülen movement.

Meanwhile, Gülen recently issued a statement condemning the failed military coup attempt in Turkey, calling the allegations of his involvement “demeaning.”

The Gülen movement is a grassroots social initiative inspired by Gülen and carries out charitable activities all around the world, including education, distributing humanitarian aid and providing drinking water especially in African countries.

The Gülen movement is not considered to have influence over the Turkish military, which is known for its Kemalist roots that is against the Gülen movement. The rebel military officials who attempted to stage a coup named themselves as “Council of Peace At Home,” in a declaration they forcibly had delivered via the state-run broadcaster TRT on Friday night. The name is a reference to “Peace at home, peace in the world,” which is a famous saying by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

Since a corruption investigation erupted on Dec. 17, 2013 and led to the resignation of four Cabinet ministers, Erdoğan has launched a witch hunt targeting shop owners, teachers, members of the judiciary, journalists and police officers who are accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is also known as the Hizmet movement. The graft probe implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.

Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of plotting to overthrow his government and said that sympathizers of the movement within the police department had fabricated the corruption scandal. Since then, hundreds of police officers have been detained and some arrested for alleged illegal activity in the course of the corruption investigation. Erdoğan openly said he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. The Gülen movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it.

Published on Turkish Minute, 28 July 2016, Thursday