Writers and artists condemn seizure of Zaman news group

Index has joined with writers, journalists and artists around the world to condemn the seizure of Turkish independent media group, Zaman, and to sign the following:

“Today Turkey seized one of the country’s leading newspapers, Zaman. In so doing, Turkey has confirmed that it is no longer committed to a free press, which is the bedrock of any democratic society.

We, the undersigned, ask the court to reverse its decision to seize Zaman and urge the international community to speak out against Turkey’s repeated attempts to stifle a free and independent media.”

Index de, dünyanın dört bir yanında olan yazarlara, gazetecilere ve sanatçılara katılarak Türkeyenin bağımsız medya grubuna devletin el koymasını kınıyor ve asağıdakini imzalayın:

“Bugün Türkiye devleti, ülkenin önde gelen gazetelerinden biri olan Zaman gazetesine el koydu. Bunu yapmasi ile, Türkiye özgür basına artık bağlı olmadığını doğruladı, oysa özgür basın bütün demokratik toplumların temelidir”.

Biz, altında imzasi bulunan kişiler, mahkemeden Zaman gazetesine kayyum atanması kararını geri çekmesini talep ediyor ve Uluslararasi toplumdan Türkiye devletinin defalarca özgür ve bağımsız medya’yı bastırmaya çalışmasına karşı açıkca konuşmasını önemle tavsiye ediyoruz.


All the staff at Index on Censorship
David Aaronovitch, journalist and chair of Index on Censorship
Ricardo Gutierrez, general secretary, European Federation of Journalists
Christophe Deloire, executive director, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Barbara Trionfi, executive director, International Press Institute
Rafael Marques de Morais, investigative journalist, MakaAngola.org
Tim Stanley, Telegraph columnist
Neil Mackay, editor, Sunday Herald, Glasgow
Molly Crabapple, artist and author
Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism, Cardiff University
Tom Holland, historian and author
Matthew Parris, writer and broadcaster
Amberin Zaman, journalist
Peter Kellner, author and writer
James Ball, special correspondent, Buzzfeed
Rupert Myers, political correspondent, GQ
Peter Pomeranzev, journalist and author
Peter Oborne, journalist
Philip Pullman, author
Jacob Mchangama, executive director, Justitia
Tamas Bodoky, editor-in-chief, atlatszo.hu
Kevin Maguire, associate editor, The Mirror
Ariel Dorfman, playwright
Mary Fitzgerald, editor in chief, OpenDemocracy.net
Catherine Mayer, journalist and author
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Ph.D.
Ian Birrell, journalist and co-founder of Africa Express
Anthony Barnett, founder, openDemocracy
Tony Gallagher, editor-in-chief, The Sun
Maria Polachowska, journalist
Nick Dawes, chief content and editorial officer, Hindustan Times
tOad, cartoonist
Dave Brown, political cartoonist, The Independent
Sir Stephen Sedley, QC
Raymond Louw, journalist
Samm Farai Monro, comedian, writer and producer
Paul Dacre, editor, Daily Mail
Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)

Add your support on the petition at Change.org

Turkish court orders seizure of Zaman news group

Prague, Czech Republic. 4th February 2013 -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures during a press conference

Prague, Czech Republic. 4th February 2013 — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures during a press conference

The seizure of Turkey’s biggest opposition newspaper is the latest move against press freedom in the country. Since the election of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2014, the increasingly autocratic politician has waged an ongoing war with voices critical of his government.

Editors and journalists have been targeted against a backdrop of regional conflict and a reignited battle with the country’s Kurdish minority. According to Turkey’s justice minister as many as 1,845 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he came to office in 2014. Journalists, celebrities and even children have faced charges.

Condemnation of the move against Zaman has been swift.

“With this move, Turkey has hit a new low for media freedom,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “We now need the international community to help pull it back from the brink by encouraging governments to speak out publicly against these actions instead of turning a blind eye to President Erdogan’s creeping authoritarianism.”

Writers, journalists and artists all told Index of their concerns about Turkey’s future.

Journalist Fredericke Geerdink, who was arrested and deported from Turkey for reporting on the conflict with the Kurds, said “it’s no surprise at all that Zaman was taken over by the government. After all, the government’s papers hinted on it weeks ago already. It was not a matter of if, but when and how Zaman would be silenced, and the affiliated Cihan news agency with it. But let’s not pretend that this is the day democracy in Turkey was carried to its grave. The press in Turkey has never been free. President Erdogan is only taking the poor press freedom situation in Turkey to new, extreme levels by using existing structures in the state system. The end of his reign, which will inevitably come, will not be enough to save the media in Turkey. Both the laws restricting press freedom and the ownership structures in the media should be tackled. For this, it is crucial that journalists in Turkey stand together, despite the polarization in society that hinders solidarity among journalists as well.”

Historian and author Tom Holland said, “that the rich and argumentative journalistic culture of Turkey should come to this. The free airing of opinions is a mark, not of Turkish weakness, but of Turkish strength”.

Neil Mackay, novelist and editor of the Sunday Herald in Scotland said “the actions of the Turkish government are a chilling attack on freedom of speech which all journalists and writers across the globe should oppose. No country which aspires to democracy can operate without a truly free press. I call on the Turkish government to overturn their decision immediately, and allow the newspaper Zaman, and its staff and editors, to report events freely and without government control.”

Cardiff University professor of journalism Richard Sambrook said “independence of media from government control is internationally recognised as essential for a mature, healthy democracy – and is also essential for economic and social development. I’d urge the Turkish authorities to reconsider this regressive move”.

Deputy managing editor London Evening Standard Will Gore said the “move by Turkish authorities to place the Zaman newspaper group under the management of trustees is a deeply worrying development in the government’s ongoing crackdown on media freedom in Turkey. Not only does it imperil free speech but strikes at the heart of one of the fundamental tenets of democracy. Journalists around the world should raise their voices in protest”.

Artist and writer Molly Crabapple said: “The Turkish government’s takeover of Zaman is only one of their recent, frightening moves to curtail the already highly restricted freedoms of journalists working in Turkey. These include the trial of Cumhurriyat editors, the arrests of journalists working for the Kurdish leftist news site Jiyan, the three-month long detention of VICE News producer Mohammed Rasool, the detention of Syrian photojournalist Rami Jarrah, expulsions of foreign journalists, and the near complete press blackout in Eastern Turkey. Writers and journalists must call on the Turkish government to respect freedom of speech and press.”

Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley called the move “unconstitutional, troubling and part of a pattern of making life harder for the opposition. Nobody would deny that Turkey faces serious security challenges. But a free press is essential to democracy, and the world needs a democratic Turkey now more than ever”.

The European Federation of Journalists said: “The European Union cannot remain silent to the political seizure of Zaman newspaper, Today’s Zaman daily and Cihan news agency. The appointment of trustees by the judicial system was actually foreseen to save dying private companies and cannot be used to silence critical media outlets or to attack social rights of media workers”.

Amnesty International accused the Erdogan government of “steamrolling over human rights” and warned that “s free and independent media, together with the rule of law and independent judiciary, are the cornerstones of internationally guaranteed freedoms which are the right of everyone in Turkey”.

The decision by a court to appoint administrators to run Zaman was preceded by last week’s move by Turksat to stop carrying independent broadcaster IMC TV’s signal, which Index condemned. In October 2015, Koza İpek Holding, and the five media outlets it owned, were put into administration by a court after a demand by the Ankara prosecutor’s office.

The seizure of Zaman, a news organisation aligned with the Gulen movement, is the latest move in a campaign of pressure against the newspaper. On 14 December 2014, police arrested senior journalists and media executives associated with the Gulen movement on terrorism-related changes. Among the arrestees was Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of Zaman. When the police raided the paper’s offices they were greeted by protesters tipped off in advance. Dumali surrendered to the police later that day. He and other detainees were ordered released on 19 December for lack of evidence.

At the time, the US State Department cautioned Turkey not to violate its “own democratic foundations” while drawing attention to raids against media outlets “openly critical of the current Turkish government.” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that the arrests went “against European values” and “are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy”.

In February, Index on Censorship welcomed the release of journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül after Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that their rights had been violated by their arrest. Index strongly reiterates its call for Turkish authorities to drop all charges against the pair.

Dündar, the editor­-in­-chief of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, and his Ankara bureau chief, Gül, had been held since the evening of 26 November. They are charged with spying and terrorism because last May they published evidence of arms deliveries by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist groups in Syria. They are currently awaiting trial.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey had 14 journalists in jail at the end of 2015. There have been 17 journalists arrested or detained in the country in 2016, according to verified incidents reported to Index’s project Mapping Media Freedom.

Add your support on the petition to end Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom at Change.org

The free speech Euros: Group A

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116924″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]In celebration of one of football’s biggest international tournaments, here is Index’s guide to the free speech Euros. Who comes out on top as the nation with the worst record on free speech?

It’s simple, the worst is ranked first.

We start today with Group A, which plays the deciding matches of the group stages today.

1st Turkey

Turkey’s record on free speech is appalling and has traditionally been so, but the crackdown has accelerated since the attempted – and failed – military coup of 2016.[1][2]

The Turkish government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has attacked free speech through a combination of closing down academia and free thought and manipulating legislation to target free speech activists and the media. He has also ordered his government to take over newspapers to control their editorial lines, such as the case with the newspaper Zaman, taken over in 2014.[3]

Some Turkish scholars have been forced to inform on their colleagues[4] and Erdoğan also ordered the closing down of the prominent Şehir University in Istanbul in June 2020[5].

But it is manipulation of legislation that is arguably the arch-weapon of the Turkish government.

A recent development has seen the country use Law 3713, Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law to convict both human rights activists and journalists.

As of 15 June this year, a total of 12 separate cases of under Law 3173[6] have seen journalists currently facing prosecution, merely for being critical of Turkey’s security forces.

This misuse of the law has caused worldwide condemnation from the European Union, the United Nations and the Council of Europe, among many others[7].

Misuse of anti-terrorism legislation is a common tactic of oppressive regimes and is reflective of Turkey’s overall attitude towards freedom of speech.

Turkey also has a long history of detaining dissenting forces and is notorious for its dreadful prison conditions. Journalist Hatice Duman, for example, has been detained in the country since 2003[8]. She has been known to have been beaten in prison.[9]

Leading novelists have also been attacked. In 2014, the pro-government press accused two authors, Elif Shafak and Orhan Pamuk were accused of being recruited by Western powers to be critical of the government.[10]

Every dissenting voice against the government in Turkey is under scrutiny and authors, journalists and campaigners easily fall foul of the country’s disgraceful human rights record.

With a rank of 153rd on Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, it is also the worst-placed team in the tournament in this regard.

2nd Italy

Freedom of speech in Italy was enshrined in the 1948 constitution after the downfall of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1945. However, a combination of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, oppressive legislation and violent threats to journalists means that its record is far from perfect.

Slapps (strategic lawsuits against public participation) are used by governments and big corporations as a form of intimidation against journalists  and are common in Italy.

Investigative journalist Antonella Napoli told Index of the difficulty journalists such as her face due to Slapps. She herself is facing a long-running suit, which first arose in 1998. She will face her next hearing on the issue in 2022[11].

She said: “We investigative journalists are under the constant threat of litigation requires determination to continue our work. A pressure that few can endure.”

“When happen a similar case you feel gagged, tied, especially if you are a freelance journalist. If you get your hands on big news about a public figure with the tendency to sue, you’ll think twice. I have never stopped, but many give up because they fear consequences that they can’t afford.”

Italy bore the brunt of the early stages of the pandemic in Europe. Often, when governments experience nationwide crises, they use certain measures to implement restrictive legislation that cracks down on journalism and free speech, inadvertently or not.

The decree, known as the Cura Italia law, meant that typical tools for journalists, or any keen public citizen, such as Freedom of Information requests were hard to come by unless deemed absolutely necessary.

Aside from Covid-19 restrictions, Italy continues to have a problem with the mafia. There are currently 23 journalists under protection in the country.[12]

3rd  Wales

Wales is very much subject to the mercy of Westminster when it comes to free speech

Arguably, the most concerning development is the Online Safety Bill (also known as ‘online harms’), currently in its white paper stage.

While there are, sadly, torrents of online abuse, this attempt to regulate speech online is concerning.

The draft bill contained language such as “legal but harmful” means there would be a discrepancy between what is illegal online, versus what would be legal offline and thus a lack of consistency in the law regarding free speech.

The world of football recently took part in an online social media blackout, instigated in part by Welsh club Swansea City on 8 April[13], following horrific online racial abuse towards their players.

Swansea said: “we urge the UK Government to ensure its Online Safety Bill will bring in strong legislation to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms.”[14]

But the boycott was criticised with some, including Index, concerned about the ramifications pushing for the bill could have.

In 2020, Index’s CEO Ruth Smeeth explained what damage the legislation could cause: “The idea that we have something that is legal on the street but illegal on social media makes very little sense to me.”[15]

4th Switzerland

Switzerland has an encouraging record for a country that only gave women the vote in 1971.

They rank 10th on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and have, generally speaking, a positive history regarding free speech and freedom of the press.

But a recent referendum may prove to be an alarming development.

Frequently, where there may be unrest or a crisis in a country, government’s use anti-terrorism laws to their own advantage. Voices can be silenced very quickly.

On 13 June, Switzerland voted to give the police detain people without charge or trial[16] under the Federal Law on Police Measures to Combat Terrorism.

Amnesty International Switzerland’s Campaign Director, Patrick Walder said the measures were “not the answer”.

“Whilst the desire among Swiss voters to prevent acts of terrorism is understandable, these new measures are not the answer,” he said. “They provide the police with sweeping and mostly unchecked powers to impose harsh sanctions against so-called ‘potential terrorist offenders’ and can also be used to target legitimate political protest.”

“Those wrongly suspected will have to prove that they will not be dangerous in the future and even children as young as 12 are at risk of being stigmatised and subjected to coercive measures by the police.​”

56.58 per cent came out in support of the measures.[17]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW_c30hwXTM&ab_channel=Vox

[2] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0306422020917614

[3] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/turkey-fears-of-zaman-newspaper-takeover/

[4] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0306422020917614

[5] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0306422020981254

[6] https://rsf.org/en/news/turkey-using-terrorism-legislation-gag-and-jail-journalists

[7] https://stockholmcf.org/un-calls-on-turkey-to-stop-misuse-of-terrorism-law-to-detain-rights-defenders/

[8] https://cpj.org/data/people/hatice-duman/

[9] https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2021/01/the-desperate-situation-for-six-people-who-are-jailednotforgotten/

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/12/pamuk-shafak-turkish-press-campaign

[11] https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Croatia/Croatia-and-Italy-the-chilling-effect-of-strategic-lawsuits-197339

[12] https://observatoryihr.org/iohr-tv/23-journalists-still-under-police-protection-in-italy/

[13] https://twitter.com/SwansOfficial/status/1380113189447286791?s=20

[14] https://www.swanseacity.com/news/swansea-city-join-social-media-boycott

[15] https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2020/09/index-ceo-ruth-smeeth-speaks-to-board-of-deputies-of-british-jews-about-censorship-concerns/

[16] https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/freedom-of-expression–universal–but-not-absolute/46536654

[17] https://lenews.ch/2021/06/13/swiss-vote-in-favour-of-covid-laws-and-tougher-anti-terror-policing-13-june-2021/[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Fourteen months on from arrest, Zaman journalists appear in court


People gather in solidarity outside Zaman newspaper in Istanbul in March 2016

When the 15 July 2016 putschists attempted a coup in Turkey, no one could foresee that the journalists, columnists and staff of opposition newspapers and TV channels would be the target of such a massive detention and arrest campaign by the authorities.

However, days after the coup was halted, a large number of reporters, authors and staff of Zaman Daily, which is linked to the Gülen movement, led by the USA-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, were accused of orchestrating the failed coup. The arrests began immediately. 

Journalists Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mustafa Ünal and others were put in jail based on their articles, written on 17 December 2013. After the paper reported on a corruption scandal, in which then-key government members were involved, the prosecution claimed these writers were “part of an organised attempt against the government”. Based on their articles, the prosecution forged a link between the coup attempt and the journalists. “Attempting to abolish the Constitution, and membership to a terrorist group” are very common charges levelled against dissident journalists and intellectuals. In brief, the main motivation of such cases, a fashion among the judiciary, is to make these people look like “putschists”.

The 64-page indictment, which was prepared 300 days after the arrests, an unlawful detention period, consisted of only the titles of the articles, which were the only evidence provided to support the accusations. Not a single word of the content from the articles was used. 

Four-hundred-and-twenty days on from the arrests, some of the journalists finally appeared before the court and made their defence. They stand trial at a courtroom close to notorious Silivri Prison where they are also being held. Despite objections from all the journalists, the court ruled at the end of the two-day hearing to continue their detention.

Bulaç, a vigorous advocate of Islamist ideology within Turkey, took to the floor to give his defence. Following a brief introduction, he talked about his frustration with the Gülen movement. He said he believes in his that elements of the movement were involved in the attempted coup.

Bulaç highlighted that he was subjected to ill-treatment during the police interrogation, including being mocked. He stated that such humiliation continued while in prison. He made clear in his defence that the religious group, which was once known for its services for people, evolved into “FETÖ”, a term coined by Turkey’s AKP government, meaning “a terrorist group supporting Fethullah Gülen”.

The most striking part of his defence was when Bulaç said he regretted writing for Zaman. He then asked the politicians who once supported the movement and later on separated: “You tell the public that they were deceived by the movement. But I was also deceived. So what makes a difference between you and me?”

Having expressed his objections to the evidence against him, Bulaç reiterated that none of his actions could be considered to be terrorist acts.

“Did I give the orders to stage a coup? Did I take part in pre-coup meetings? Did I bomb those innocent people who were killed on that night by jet fighters? Did I launder money on behalf of the group? Did I illegally transfer money abroad? Did I had relation with the police and military officers who actively took part in the process? No, none. So how can I be labelled as the member of the organization?” Bulaç asked.

Another well-known Zaman journalist, Alpay, is 73-years-old with multiple health conditions, including high blood pressure, prostate and heart conditions, loss of hearing and difficulty in breathing, among others. As a result, he has required medical treatment while in prison. 

All defendants in the case face three times aggravated life sentences plus 15 years in jail. Alpay questions how his articles could merit such an extreme prison term. He argues that the evidence against him is nonsense. 

As to why he wrote for Zaman rather than other media outlets, Alpay said the daily was the only one which opened its doors to him and that it pursued a policy of reaching out to all parts of the society by inviting various authors with different political backgrounds.

“The movement was a vigorous supporter of Turkey’s European Union membership bid. However, I was disappointed with the movement after I realised it had a dark side. I am extremely regretful for writing for Zaman,” Alpay added.

Alpay believes he will be acquitted of all charges against him and asked the panel of judges to release him pending trial so that he could spend the rest of his life with his children and grandchildren.

The story of İbrahim Karayeğen, who was the night editor of Zaman, is a little different from the other defendants. After he was detained in July 2016, his relatives hadn’t heard from him for eight days and the lawyer representing him said that Karayeğen faced torture. His lawyer was later arrested and sent to prison.

In his court defence, Karayeğen said that he was beaten by prison guards in the corners of the Silivri Prison where no surveillance camera exist. He shouted “justice doesn’t exist” during one of these assaults. He was held in a solitary confinement for six-and-a-half months.

Although he didn’t write a single article for the daily, the prosecution charged him with writing articles supporting the coup attempt. Karayeğen underscored that he didn’t write columns for Zaman during his working life in the daily. Explaining that he had no authority to determine the daily’s editorial policy, Karayeğen asked for his release. But his hopes also faded as the court decided for the opposite.

The next hearing is on 8 December, where a decision will be made whether Alpay’s health is an obstacle to his being held in prison. [/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:1505985230960-9d055fa4-4d52-5″ taxonomies=”4335, 8607″][/vc_column][/vc_row]