Project Exile: Turkish journalist still fearful in Germany

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”“I try to live isolated to protect myself. “”][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Zubyede Sari

When she got her start in the news business in 2009, Turkish journalist Zübeyde Sari couldn’t have imagined her chosen profession would cause her to have to leave her homeland.

At that time, Turkey’s then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was making peace overtures to Kurdish separatists, the Arab Spring that triggered civil war in neighbouring Syria was still more than a year away, and Turkish journalists and opposition parties had significant latitude to criticise Erdogan and the ruling AKP party. 

After graduating from university in the southern port town of Mersin, Sari later moved east to the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, about 60 miles (97km) from the Syrian border. There she became a correspondent for BBC Turkish and the pro-Kurdish IMC TV,  eventually covering the Syrian civil war as well as Turkey’s conflict with the PKK, a Kurdish militia.  

Yet Turkey was becoming a more restrictive place for journalists. Censorship increased after massive protests in 2013 in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Gezi Park. In 2016, a failed military coup against President Erdogan triggered a ferocious crackdown on dissidents. More than 150,000 civil servants, police officers and academics were fired from government jobs for suspected disloyalty, according to a tally from the website Over 300 journalists were arrested and 189 media outlets shut down. IMC TV was raided by police and shutdown mid-broadcast.

Sari survived the initial purges, but in late 2018 she was forced to flee to Germany.  “I had to leave in just one night,” she says. “They put my face on all the front pages of the magazines, accusing me of being part of a broadcast television network connected to the Kurdish movement. The next day, I would have woken up with the police knocking at my front door.”

Soon after leaving, she published an article for the site detailing collaboration between the ruling AKP party and Turkish security in the construction of hidden prisons for political dissidents. Now 36, she lives in Berlin, Germany and works for Özgürüz [We Are Free], an online Turkish news portal founded by the well-known exiled journalist Can Dündar. 

Sari, who still fears threatened by the many pro-Erdogan Turkish immigrants in Germany, spoke with Global Journalist’s Arianna Suardi. Below, an edited version of their interview:

Global Journalist: Why exactly were you targeted? 

Sari: It’s complicated, but I think the Turkish government chose to target me because I’m reporting the truth about the political situation in Turkey. I talk about corruption and the lack of freedom of expression, and of course Erdogan’s party doesn’t like it. I also have friends who are Kurdish and [minority] Alevis and that’s probably why I’ve been accused of being one of them.

GJ: How was it to leave in just one night?

Sari: I’m still under the impact of that feeling. You basically leave your life behind with a small suitcase. It was November 2018, in one night I packed all the things I could and in the early morning I went to the airport and I took the first plane to Berlin. 

I feel I don’t belong in this place. Leaving your country is a problem, but settling down in another one isn’t easy either.

GJ: Is life in Germany different than you imagined?

Sari: I’m working for  Özgürüz. I can do my profession and I’ve been supported by [press freedom group] Reporters Without Borders. But it’s still very difficult here, more than I imagined. That’s why I started getting therapy. One important aspect is that I don’t speak German. I’m basically restarting my life from the beginning.

GJ: When do you think it will be possible to go back to Turkey?

Sari: I’ve packed my luggage everyday hoping to go back, and I’m still doing it. The problem is the climate of freedom of expression – in Turkey it’s terrible. You need press cards from the government to be a journalist. The government has full control over press card distribution. All the media outlets in Turkey are controlled by Erdogan, and if you’re not part of them you’re considered a terrorist or a traitor. 

GJ: Now that you’re in Germany, do you feel free to express yourself or do you still feel pressure?

Sari: No, I can’t express myself. No one has actually threatened me so far, but I just try to hide myself as a form of protection. Sometimes I have the feeling that [Turkish] people in Germany do not really understand what is happening in Turkey, and that is the reason why they sympathise with Erdogan. 

I prefer ignoring them rather than get into trouble…I try to avoid every private and personal conversation because I’m scared. It’s not easy, but when, for example, I have to take a taxi, I don’t reveal my identity nor my views about politics. Just yesterday, I was in a taxi and I lied about my profession, I said I was an accountant because I didn’t feel safe. I lie all the time, and I try to live isolated to protect myself.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.”][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook). We’ll send you our weekly newsletter, our monthly events update and periodic updates about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share, sell or transfer your personal information to anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″]

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Germany: Journalists facing conflict with emergency responders over filming

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”″][vc_column_text]Video footage shot by Thomas Kraus shows police violently detaining journalist Marvin Oppong.


When journalist Marvin Oppong began photographing the scene of an accident involving a police car and a taxi, he was just doing his job. But before long Oppong ended up being violently detained by police and stripped of his camera’s memory card.

“What happened is that I stumbled across something which made the police look bad”, Oppong told Mapping Media Freedom. “That’s why I was treated the way I was. Their objective was to get me, and my evidence, out of the way – with violence if need be. They didn’t want anyone there taking pictures. I had images of the wrecked police vehicle which could be relevant for a future criminal investigation. Taking my evidence might be relevant under criminal law.”

The facts of the incident are clear: Two vehicles collided. A passenger in one of the two cars, a taxi, was seriously injured. The driver of the police car appeared to be at fault. Emergency services and police officers responded. A local journalist turned up to the scene to document the smash-up – the bread and butter work of local news reporters globally.

When a second journalist, freelancer Thomas Kraus, began filming Oppong’s arrest, a police officer tried to stop filming.  

Oppong later tweeted that the public prosecutor later said that the police officer was under criminal investigation.

Mapping Media Freedom has verified a number of incidents involving members of the public services interfering with journalists filming events.

In May 2018 MMF reported on the case of firefighters abusing and threatening journalists at the scene of a road traffic accident in the Mecklenburg lake district. The driver was returning from an event run by a volunteer fire service where he was acting as a child minder, and initial reports suggested the responding firefighters believed him to be a member of the volunteer fire service. He was almost one and a half times over the legal drink-drive limit. Firefighters attempted to make journalists leave even though police had given them permission to be at scene. Later that night the journalists received abusive and threatening phone calls and, as a result, a police car was stationed outside their home.

In October 2017 Bild reporter Karl Keim filmed the arrest of a suspect wanted for knife crimes in Munich on his mobile phone. Police ordered him to delete the footage, threatening to confiscate his phone if he did not comply. When he did not immediately obey the police order, he was told “we can just resolve this with physical force if you like?”. In panic Keim unlocked his phone and the officers deleted the footage themselves.

In March 2016 in Munich TAZ journalist Laura Meschede used her phone to film what looked like a particularly brutal arrest. The officer ordered her to stop filming, threatened confiscation of her phone and physically manhandled her. The next day, Meschede found out – from a police press release – that the arrest she had attempted to film was of a man trying to film a third arrest and, according to police, “got physical” when asked to stop.

“This kind of thing is happening more often”, said Sven Adam, a lawyer who represents journalists on the receiving end of police aggression, in an interview for online magazine ZAPP. Lawyer Marco Noli in an interview for national weekly TAZ mentioned that the police increasingly use video themselves for evidence – “but that is their material, which they can edit. There are numerous examples, he told TAZ, of police editing out their own misconduct. “I think this is the reason why police are so vehemently attacking people who film them”, Noli said. “They fear that smartphones could end the era in which they alone get to decide what video material ends up in court.”

In fact, video evidence gathered by police was instrumental in the 27 convictions for offences related to rioting at the G20 summit in Hamburg. Even after critical journalists had their accreditation revoked or not recognised and were beaten and pepper sprayed by police, journalists responded to calls by Hamburg police to share their footage to help identify and prosecute suspects.

Journalists supplied several hundred gigabytes of data, which would correspond to 15 hours or more of video footage. The major German media houses sent all their broadcasted material, and one of their production companies sent all their unused material also. Private broadcaster RTL said they have a duty to assist the authorities when it appears a crime has been committed, also by surrendering unused material, unless it would compromise sources. Public broadcasters NDR and ZDF by contrast say they refuse in all circumstances, as did national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. They pointed out that people won’t talk to journalists if journalists can’t protect them, and worse, the danger that people will become openly hostile to journalists, in particular at large events, if they perceive journalists as working hand-in-hand with the authorities rather than as neutral reporters.

In an interview for NDR Hamburg police chief Ralf Martin Meyer stressed the voluntary nature of the co-operation but hinted that things might not necessarily always be so friendly. He said there were circumstances in which police are justified in confiscating material. The police have a duty, he said, to clarify what happened. If they don’t, “they can make themselves criminally liable for aiding a perpetrator of an act after the fact by preventing their prosecution.”

Former Federal Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schanrrenberger, of the neo-liberal FDP, criticised the police in an interview for public broadcaster NDR: “To require unused material is in my eyes not justified. First and foremost editorial confidentiality applies, first and foremost the freedom of the press and free speech must be protected. This is anchored in law. One cannot require of the media to be a kind of support policeman.”

The ubiquity of smartphones has come into conflict with a keen appreciation of the importance of the right to privacy in Germany, which has robust data protection laws. Germans are more suspicious about social media and don’t use it to share photographs and videos of themselves and each other as much as in other countries. CCTV is much more controversial and tightly controlled in Germany. The German press code tightly limits the circumstances under which journalists may publish the identity or the image of a suspect, defendant or victim.

It is not surprising that this keen sense of privacy in the population as a whole is reflected in police and public services culture. Remarkably, by global law enforcement standards, most German police uniforms do not display an officer’s name or even badge number. Their introduction has been consistently and vehemently opposed by the main police union, GdP, who say they are not necessary, place all officers under a “general suspicion”, and pose a risk to the sanctity of individual officers’ private and home life. Amnesty International has criticised this lack of police accountability in its submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review, noting that even where individual officers can be identified, a further obstacle is that none of Germany’s police forces have a truly independent body to examine complaints against police.

Legally anyone may film police and public services as long as it does not obstruct their work and respects the privacy rights of anyone involved in the incident. Journalists additionally enjoy the constitutionally protected right to practice their profession and freedom of the press.

Tensions are usually resolved by production of a press ID card, which should reassure officers that the journalists are professionals: They won’t obstruct, they won’t trample all over evidence, they won’t take and publish distasteful images of helpless individuals suffering. A spokesperson for the GdP told ZAPP that there are “absolutely no problems with professional journalists on the ground”; police receive extensive training on press law “and the behaviour towards journalists is generally characterised by great tolerance.”

The most respected press ID card in Germany is jointly issued by the six large press associations. There is no special training or exams required to get one. However, they are only available to people who work as professional journalists full time or as their main job Accordingly, they are not available to journalists who work part time and who are not paid.

The police service claims that Oppong was arrested because he never identified himself as a journalist, and that they released him as soon as they established he was.

Oppong disputes the police version of events. “I told them I was a journalist many times but they weren’t interested. They didn’t want to see my press ID card. They didn’t even want to see my ordinary citizens’ ID card until I was in the cell. So I think they didn’t arrest me to ascertain my identity or to check whether I was entitled to take photographs because all that could already have been done at the scene.”

Oppong vehemently rebuts the police story, regurgitated unquestioningly in much of the local media, that his removal from the scene was necessary because he was obstructing the work of responders and trampling all over evidence. “The scene wasn’t cordoned off at any point in time. I always maintained a respectful distance. The video showing the sequence when I was taken into custody also shows people standing in the area in which the police had not allowed me to be in before. It shows that six police officers were participating in taking me into custody. If securing the area had really been so imperative, some of those six might have taken on this task.”

Oppong is facing criminal charges for resisting arrest, assault on police and violation of privacy rights by taking pictures. As well as defending these charges, Oppong is pursuing criminal charges against the officers involved including misconduct in public office and false imprisonment.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_raw_html]JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjI3MDAlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjIzMTUlMjIlMjBzcmMlM0QlMjJodHRwcyUzQSUyRiUyRm1hcHBpbmdtZWRpYWZyZWVkb20udXNoYWhpZGkuaW8lMkZzYXZlZHNlYXJjaGVzJTJGODMlMkZtYXAlMjIlMjBmcmFtZWJvcmRlciUzRCUyMjAlMjIlMjBhbGxvd2Z1bGxzY3JlZW4lM0UlM0MlMkZpZnJhbWUlM0U=[/vc_raw_html][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1533044545483-3470eedd-d751-9″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Germany: G20 journalists face assault, intimidation and loss of accreditation


German police confront a protester on 8 July during the G20 summit in Hamburg. (Photo: Konrad Lembcke / Flickr)

German police confront a protester on 8 July during the G20 summit in Hamburg. (Photo: Konrad Lembcke / Flickr)

Journalists covering the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July were subject to assaults, intimidation and some lost their accreditation, according to verified incidents documented by Index on Censorship’s project Mapping Media Freedom.

Several journalists reported that they were assaulted by police while covering protests against the meeting, which included leaders of the 19 largest industrial nations in the world plus the EU. Leading up to the summit, freelance journalist Martin Eimermacher was assaulted while police were clearing a protest camp in Hamburg on 2 July, according to Netzpolitik and Jetzt.

Police had demolished protesters’ tents when Eimermacher tried to leave the area, telling police he felt unwell. He said that officers pushed him and several other journalists to the centre of a field. He showed his press card, which was slapped out of his hand by a police officer who then pepper sprayed him.

“In my opinion the most dangerous thing is that this sets an example within Germany and beyond, that such treatment of journalists is acceptable,” Mapping Media Freedom Germany correspondent Pascale Müller said. “There seemed to have been, on an individual level of police officers, a severe lack of understanding of the rights of the press and their role as an observer and part of a healthy democracy.”

On 7 July, ITN News journalist Flo Smith, his producer and cameraperson were all pepper sprayed by police. Photojournalist Henry Langston of Vice UK was struck by a police water cannon. RT UK published a video in which police assaulted and injured photojournalist Zino Peterk, who later had to go to the hospital for his injuries.

On 8 July, Spiegel Online photographer Chris Grodotzki said police assaulted him with pepper spray while he was covering protests in Schulterblatt. Taz reporter Martin Kaul sustained minor injuries when he was hit by protesters while live-streaming the demonstration, according to Deutschlandfunk. Müller noted that some attacks by protesters targeted journalists they perceived as right-wing, “but in some cases it seems that people were already so ‘high on violence’ that they hurt journalists regardless of their political affiliation.”[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_custom_heading text=”Media freedom is under threat worldwide. Journalists are threatened, jailed and even killed simply for doing their job.” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Germany and 41 other European area nations.

As of 4/8/2017, there were 101 verified incidents associated with Germany in the Mapping Media Freedom database.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship campaigns against laws that stifle journalists’ work. We also publish an award-winning magazine featuring work by and about censored journalists. Support our work today.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][vc_column_text]“Many journalists who covered the protest directly and that I have spoken to were emotionally and physically affected even a week after” Müller said. The press freedom violations were widely condemned, but according to Müller “The most shocking revelation came after the protests, when Sueddeutsche Zeitung revealed that the BKA had monitored selected journalists during their summit coverage over the past 10 years. This was very disturbing and lead to a certain level of insecurity within the profession. “

Other journalists reported the use of intimidation tactics by police. In the Schanze neighbourhood, Frank Schneider, a reporter for Bild, tweeted that police told journalists to “leave or you’ll go to the hospital”. F-Mag journalist Wiebke Harms reported on Twitter that police in Schanze told her: “Your press card is worth nothing.” Freelance journalist Reuben Neugebauer was told “now press freedom is over”.

Thirty-two journalists had their accreditation revoked by federal police on 7 and 8 July. German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert cited ‘security concerns’ as the rationale for the loss of access to the summit.

Journalists who lost accreditation include the photographer Björn Kietzmann, Rafael Heygster (Weser Kurier), photographer for Junge Welt, Willi Effenberger Alfred Denzinger (Beobachter News), photographer Chris Grodotzki (Spiegel Online), Adil Yigit (Avrupa Postasi), editor Elsa Koester (Neues Deutschland) and freelance photographer Po Ming Cheung.

When trying to enter a press area, Grodotzki and Yigit were told by police that their accreditation was no longer valid. Photographers Björn Kietzmann for Weser Kurier and Rafael Heygster were also not allowed to enter the press area.

Müller does not think that this treatment will intimidate journalists into stepping back from events like this in the future. “Quite the opposite, I think that many journalists and their outlets are quite resilient against such types of violence or blocked access. G20 brought press freedom issues to the forefront in Germany and made journalists even more aware of their role as critical observers, even in the middle of such violent tension and intimidation attempts.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1501833910854-5bf94268-20d1-5″ taxonomies=”77″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Germany targets social media companies with new law

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Increasingly, governments are devolving responsibility for determining what constitutes unacceptable content to private companies.

Legislation approved by the German cabinet in April 2017 threatens fines on companies that fail to take down content that might contravene some 24 current provisions of the German Criminal Code, including offences as varied as “defamation of the state and its symbols”, “anti-constitutional defamation of constitutional organs” and “defamation of religions, religious and ideological associations.”

The measure effectively outsources decisions on the balance between freedom of expression and other legally protected rights to private companies and so threatens open and democratic discourse at the heart of the one of the world’s largest, most stable democracies.

The idea that the threats we face are in some way more acute than those that have gone before — and therefore necessitate a restriction of hard-won freedoms — is not new.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” argued US founding father Benjamin Franklin, showing the conflict goes back centuries.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″]

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