December 16, 2014

Int’l advocacy groups rally behind detained journalists

A number of international advocacy groups for freedom of expression, press freedoms and human rights have expressed strong support for journalists from the Zaman daily and the Samanyolu broadcasting group who were detained by police on Sunday, saying that the Turkish government is targeting media in a national crackdown.

Freedom House, a US-based nongovernmental organization advocating democracy, political freedom and human rights, has said that the detention of prominent journalists from Zaman and the Samanyolu broadcasting group in Turkey appear to be “government retribution against journalists reporting on corruption and criticizing the government.” Freedom House called on the Turkish government to end the crackdown on free speech in Turkey.

Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, were detained on Sunday in a police operation that targeted journalists, TV scriptwriters and former police officers.

Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House, made a statement on Sunday, saying, “The sweeping charges against the journalists and others detained today is a threat to free expression in Turkey and to anyone critical of its government.”

“These arrests appear to be government retribution against journalists reporting on corruption and criticizing the government. The crackdown on speech in Turkey must end,” Calingaert said.

Freedom House had earlier downgraded Turkey from a status of “partly free” to “not free” in its “Freedom of the Press 2014” report issued in May, citing a “significant decline” in press freedom in Turkey. The advocacy group earlier this month rated Turkey as “partly free” in its “Freedom on the Net” report for 2014.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) made a statement on Sunday as well, condemning the raids and detentions of journalists and media workers on charges the CPJ characterizes as “politicized anti-state charges.”

“We are deeply concerned about the detention of journalists in Turkey in early morning raids today," said CPJ's Executive Director Joel Simon.

"While details are still emerging, this much is already known: Turkish authorities, who have a history of politicized prosecutions against the media, do not tolerate critical reporting. The heavy-handed actions this morning smack of political vengeance," added Simon.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Sunday that those targeted in the raid were acting against democracy and would be held accountable.

The CPJ also discussed a statement on Sunday from Chief Prosecutor Hadi Salihoğlu that accused the detainees of conspiring to run a criminal organization that aims to produce false evidence. The detainees were accused of establishing and being members of an armed terrorist organization as well as slander, among other charges, according to Salihoğlu.

The CPJ said that, according to news reports in Turkey, the raids were a kind of retaliation against those who publicly accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of corruption in December 2013.

The CPJ also pointed out that Erdoğan had referred to the 2013 corruption scandal as an attempt to overthrow the government and said that those conspiring against him would be brought down.

“In the last several years of Erdoğan's term as prime minister, his administration targeted critical journalists and news outlets, CPJ research shows. With at least 40 journalists behind bars, Turkey was the leading jailer of journalists when the CPJ conducted its annual census in December 2013,” said the CPJ.

According to the CPJ, dozens of imprisoned journalists were released during the year but still face charges. Recalling that a CPJ delegation -- led by CPJ Board Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe -- visited Turkey in October, the group's statement said the delegation had secured commitments from Turkish officials, including Erdoğan, to protect journalists under threat and reform laws incompatible with free expression.

"Once again, President Erdoğan has shown he will embrace extreme measures to silence dissident voices. He believes in a compliant press, not a free press," said Simon. "The people of Turkey deserve better,” he added.

Before Sunday's detentions, at least seven journalists were in jail on charges related to their work, according to CPJ research.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Turkey, Emma Sinclair-Webb, also said that the latest detentions of journalists look like another attempt to crack down on critical media.

Speaking to Today's Zaman about the recent raids and detentions on specific media outlets, Sinclair-Webb said the burden is on the government to produce evidence to justify accusing the Zaman media group and Samanyolu group editors and journalists of being part of an organization that attempted to take over state power. The detentions came days after a government-sponsored bill that made it possible to arrest suspects based on "reasonable suspicion."

The Albanian Union of Journalists (AUJ) issued a statement on Sunday saying it is shocked by the detentions and the attack on opposition media in Turkey.

The union expressed its solidarity with the targeted media outlets and called for an international response to this “unprecedented” wave of arrests and the persecution of journalists of the “most important media” in Turkey.

IFJ: We are appalled by brazen assault on press freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), condemned the shocking raids, saying, “One year after the exposure of corruption at the heart of government, the authorities appear to be exacting their revenge by targeting those who express opposing views.”

“We are appalled by this brazen assault on press freedom and Turkish democracy,” said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President.

The EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, said, “The Council of Europe and other intergovernmental institutions should take action in relation to Turkey.”

NUJ: We deplore this attack on journalists and journalism

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), a trade union for journalists in the United Kingdom and Ireland, have also condemned the raids by Turkish authorities.

Barry White, NUJ representative of the European Federation of Journalists, said: “The international community must send a strong and clear message to the authorities in Turkey that attacking journalists in this way is an attack on democracy.”

PEN: Mass detention of journalists extremely worrying

English PEN, the founding center of PEN International, the worldwide writers' association, said, “The raids on media outlets and mass detention of journalists are an extremely worrying development at a time when freedom of expression is increasingly vulnerable in Turkey.”

English PEN director Jo Glanville said in a statement, “Authoritarian tactics will only serve to erode the government's standing, the freedom of its citizens and Turkey's international reputation.”

IPI: Journalists targeted, called members of ‘parallel structure'

The International Press Institute (IPI) and its Turkish National Committee have also condemned the raids, saying they were “yet another sign that striking a blow against the freedom of the press in order to solve a political problem has become a tradition in Turkey.”

The IPI statement continued: “Just as critical journalists have been arrested in the past by alleging that they were ‘coup plotters' or ‘terrorists,' now our colleagues are being targeted by calling them the members of ‘the parallel structure' within the state.”

Amnesty: Journalists must be freed if no credible evidence found

Amnesty International went one step further by urging Turkish authorities to release journalists detained in a wave of arrests yesterday, unless they have credible evidence that they have committed a recognizable criminal offence.

Amnesty International Turkey Director Murat Çekiç said, "Yesterday's arrests of senior journalists in a section of the media that has played a leading role in covering allegations of corruption by government officials raise serious questions about the authorities' motivation for their detention."

OSCE: Journalists should be released immediately

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, wrote to Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu calling for the immediate release of detained journalists.

“Yesterday's arrests point to a resurgence in the threats against journalists. They should be released immediately,” Mijatovic said.

The letter read, “The arrests once again show that a thorough revision of the laws allowing for the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey is urgent. Laws should not be used to curb dissenting views in a society.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 December 2014, Monday