September 27, 2016

Media Purge Will Damage Turkey For Good, CPJ Warns

Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, said the Turkish authorities have detained over 100 journalists and shut down over 100 outlets in the post-coup crackdown.

Ognianova, whose organisation is an international media watchdog, told BIRN in an interview that with all media outlets perceived to have ties to the so-called Gulenist movement had been shut, while the list of journalists who have been arrested for once having worked for them grows longer.

“Since the failed coup attempt, the government has reacted with complete paranoia against its opponents, using the coup to prevent any plurality of opinions and in the media,” she said.

She said the purge has moved on to individual journalists who had criticised the government while judicial and police harassment of Kurdish media in particular has intensified.

On July 15, rogue military officers attempted to overthrow Turkey’s elected government. Thousands of people took to the streets to defend the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The final death toll was more than 200.

The government blamed the attempted coup on followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government accuses of leading a terrorist organization and running a “parallel state structure” in Turkey from exile in the United States. Gulen denies the accusations.

Ognianova said the crackdown on “Gulenists”, including on media outlets perceived as having ties to his Hizmet movement, had been going on for months.

“The crackdown actually started months before the coup but it escalated after July 15 and has reached unprecedented levels,” she recalled.

Ognianova said the Turkish authorities seemed to be purging any critical voices who put forward alternative views and information to what was approved by the government.

“Anybody who challenges what’s coming out as the official version of an event from Ankara is under threat and is being prosecuted under very broad and vague anti-state and anti-terrorism laws,” she said.

According to the CPJ, within a few weeks of the coup, the government had closed down more than 100 broadcasters, newspapers, magazines, publishers, and distribution companies, and had detained more than 100 journalists.

Some journalists escaped into exile, but others had their passports canceled to prevent their departure.

The Prime Minister’s office has revoked the press credentials of more than 600 journalists.

News outlets have either been shut down or had their assets confiscated by the state. Ognianova also said that journalists who were able to flee are now afraid for their families who stayed behind in Turkey.

She warned that the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt has given the security agencies broad rights to detain individuals for up to 30 days without access to a judge and with restricted access to a lawyer.

These measures, along with Turkey’s temporary suspension of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, have created conditions in which detainees are at high risk of abuse.

“A plurality of the media and of voices barely exists currently,” Ognianova added, saying that what worrieed them most is that there is no real sign that Ankara is about to relent.

“The government, unfortunately, is pretty adamant about continuing with purges. It has said that these actions are not politicly motivated and that they are justified in order to protect the state,” Ognianova said.

“They say they are just ‘cleaning house’ of traitors and criminals. But if you look at the scale of this, it is clear that the purge has gone way broader,” she said.

On September 14, Ognianova addressed the US Senate’s Foreign Relation Committee, urging it to condemn the purge of opposition and independent media in Turkey.

The CPJ has called on the US not to honour Turkish arrest warrants for journalists and to encourage other countries not to honour them either, and to treat journalists’ travel documents as valid, even if Turkey has canceled them.

In a letter to the US Senate, the CPJ urged Congressional leaders to stress the crucial role that a pluralistic media plays in times of crisis in their meetings with Turkish officials.

Ogninanova said the future of the media scene overall was worrying as the current events would have a long-term repercussions.

“If this goes unchecked, Turkey will be devoid of independent voices and journalists will self-censor themselves and be very careful about what topics to cover, and will not feel safe digging into the wrongdoings of the ruling elites,” she said.

“The media will stop being watchdogs, there to serve to the public. In the end, Turkish society will suffer,” Ognianova predicted.

Published on Balkan Insight, 27 September 2016, Tuesday