Turkey: A year on from the coup attempt, journalists are still being labelled terrorists


16 July: Violence following attempted military coup. Credit: deepspace / Shutterstock.com

In the year since the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016, Turkey has cemented its position as the largest jailer of journalists in the world, with around 166 journalists in prison by the end of June 2017.

Many have been accused of being affiliated with terror organisations including the Kurdish PKK, the left-wing DHKP-C and the Gullenist Movement, the group accused of being behind last year’s coup attempt.

This is the case with the 18 writers, cartoonists and executives from the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper, who went on trial on 24 July, accused of supporting in their coverage these very groups.

Seven of the defendants, including cartoonist Musa Kart, were released under judicial supervision. They must report to the authorities regularly in the lead-up to the next hearing on 11 September.

“The Turkish state’s reaction to the attempted coup on their democratic institutions led to an unparalleled level of attacks on press freedom,” said Hannah Machlin, project manager of Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform. “One year later, the media sphere has been carved out, with hundreds of journalist in jail, being forced to flee or have lost their jobs following the closure of outlets. This trial is clearly political and the state’s attempt to criminalise journalism.”

MMF has been closely monitoring the situation over the last year. Here are some of the more recent cases of journalists being accused of being connected with terrorism.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black”][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=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2Fcampaigns%2Fpress-regulation%2F|||”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Turkey and 41 other European area nations.

As of 30/8/2017, there were 521 verified incidents associated with Turkey 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 color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Eight former state channel staff arrested on terror charges

On 12 July the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s office issued detention warrants for 34 former employees of the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television network without providing their names. On 19 July eight former employees were imprisoned under charges of “belonging to a terrorist organisation”.

Media reports said that in Istanbul, warrants to detain 18 people who formerly worked for TRT were issued and that ten of these people were captured. One was released after being interrogated by the police.

The other nine, who were referred to court after their police interrogation, were: reporter Efnan Y, chief technician Faysal A, engineers Serkan C and Özgür Ş, chief technician Satı D, production assistants Şule R, Uğur Y, Tuba E and Yunus G.

Eight of these individuals were put under arrest while one was released under judicial control measures.

Reporter for pro-Kurdish agency arrested on terror charges

On 27 July, Erdoğan Alayumat, a reporter for the pro- Kurdish dihaber news agency, was arrested on terror charges.

Alayumat was detained on 13 July in Gaziantep together with fellow dihaber reporter Nuri Akman, while working on a news report. Later, they were transferred to Hatay province. The two were referred to a court on charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation.”

The court released Akman on judicial probation terms but ruled to arrest Alayumat.

Evrensel writer arrested in Diyarbakır terror probe

Also on 27 July, the Evrensel columnist Yusuf Karataş was arrested as part of a Diyarbakır-focused operation into the Democratic Society Congress, a union of pro-Kurdish civil society organisations.

Karataş was arrested after visiting the Diyarbakır Police Station for a police interrogation regarding the investigation. He was then referred to a prosecutor, who asked the judges to arrest the journalist.

Karataş was asked questions relating to why he joined a protest of the Roboski massacre – where 34 Kurdish citizens were killed in a bombing by Turkish air force jets in 2011.

Two staff members for pro-Kurdish outlet arrested

On 28 July, two employees of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, Serkan Erdoğan and Özkan Erdoğan, were arrested on charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organisation”.

Özkan Erdoğan was initially detained for being in possession of a magazine deemed “illegal” by the Turkish authorities.

Serkan Erdoğan, a reporter for the dailu was detained in a home raid on the same night also in Mersin and later arrested by a Peace Judgeship on the same charges. Reports have said the two Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employees share an apartment, but they are no relation to each other in spite of the shared last name.

French journalist detained at Turkey-Iraq border, arrested on terror charges

On 1 August French journalist Loup Bureau was arrested in Sirnak on charges of being a member of a terror organisation.

Bureau was first detained on 26 July at the Habur crossing, where he was crossing into Turkey from Iraq.

After five days in police custody, he was charged and taken to a prison in the town of Şırnak. A gag order was imposed on his case.

DİHA reporter arrested over social media posts

On 18 August Mehmet Sıddık Damar, formerly a reporter for the shuttered news agency DİHA, was arrested in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district over his social media posts.

Prior to his arrest, Damar visited the Kızıltepe Courthouse to testify in an investigation against him.

The court ruled for his arrest on charges of “propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organisation” based on several tweets and social media posts.

Damar was sent to Mardin Prison.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1504104629275-dd1fbb43-7214-3″ taxonomies=”7355″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Yavuz Baydar: Escalation in the clampdown on Turkey’s media and academia

nokta erdoganIt was at the early hours of Friday that a journalist sent a note to her colleagues.

“We are told by the management that our publication is discontinued with immediate effect,” she said. “We are told to pack our belongings and leave the office. You can’t imagine how sad I am.”

The weekly news magazine Nokta, which had been launched in the aftermath of a military coup in 1980s, is no more.

Lately, under a new management, Nokta belonged to the critical mass of what remained of independent journalism in Turkey, with long reads and popular, bright commentators such as Perihan Mağden and Gükhan Özgün.

My colleague went on to say that the management internal communique cited the loss of a printing house as the reason for the closure. Given the waves of restriction over basic freedoms in the wake of Emergency Rule declared in 81 provinces of Turkey, this explanation came as no surprise.

Commenting on the closure, a Kurdish colleague who has extensively covered the operations in Cizre and Diyarbakır, added: “It’s a disaster to have the media outlets shut down, but it’s even worse to see media professionals left without a job.”

In another incident, Paolo Brera, a well-known reporter with La Repubblica, was held by the police officers at Sultanahmet Square yesterday while interviewing tourists, and taken to police headquarters. At first his whereabouts were unknown, and Italy had to intervene at the highest level to have him released after four hours.

As of Friday afternoon the situation of the columnist and human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz was unclear. Cengiz is an international figure and close friend of the Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elçi who was assassinated in Diyarbakır last summer. Among other assignments, Cengiz followed the case of Christian missionaries slain in Malatya in 2007. He attended the UN’s Human Rights Summit in Geneva some months ago, commemorating by explaining the situation to a larger audience. His colleagues are on standby, knowing that he is held at the Anti-Terror Unit in Istanbul. His wife, also a lawyer, had been told that the detention was related to a case from 2014, but nobody has any further details.

The Emergency Rule means that no lawyers other than those appointed by the bar associations are now allowed to have access to all the cases. What is also known is that those who are arrested are held in cells at police headquarters.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said in an interview yesterday that in “crimes related to terrorist activities” individuals can be detained for at least seven-to-eight days. “Our staff is working on the possibilities of even extending that time,” he said, adding that he shares the concern that it will be very difficult to distinguish innocents from criminals.

The overall situation continues to be opaque, with scarce information, and experienced journalists caution each other to compare what’s being officially stated with what’s really being done. The measures so far leave little doubt that the media and the academia are under severe pressure, and the growing concern is there is an escalation of a clampdown, without much explanation of what the media and academic freedom had to do with the very coup attempt itself.

A version of this article was originally posted to Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is published here with permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.

Mapping Media Freedom: A disastrous week for Turkish journalism

Words by Ianka Bhatia and Henrik Choy

Turkey has faced severe turmoil since last Friday’s attempted military coup. While it was ultimately thwarted, 290 people were left dead as of 18 July with many more injured. In response, the government has since cracked down on dissent and suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, with more than 50,000 people rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs.

In addition, the country has seen an increase in violations against media workers, with journalists murdered, held hostage, arrested and physically attacked, as well as having equipment confiscated or destroyed. These violations have raised concerns from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović, has said: “Fully recognising the difficult times that Turkey is going through, the authorities need to ensure media freedom offline and online in line with their international commitments.”

Worries over these freedoms have only increased since President Erdogan announced on Wednesday that Turkey would be in a state of emergency for the next three months, enabling the government to initiate arrests and investigations in response to the failed coup. 

Here are five reports from Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project that give us most cause for concern.

Journalist killed by pro-coup soldiers

15 July, 2016: Mustafa Cambaz, a photojournalist for the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, was shot and killed by soldiers during the failed coup attempt. Earlier that day, he had tweeted: “We are taking the streets following our commander-in-chief Erdogan’s call and order”. The Committee to Protect Journalists was quick to condemn the attack, with the Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator Nina Ognianova calling on “Turkish authorities to punish those responsible for killing Mustafa Cambaz to the full extent of the law”.

Military raids TV channels

15 July, 2016: Renegade members of the Turkish military seized control of several media outlets and studios throughout Turkey, taking hostages and disrupting broadcasts. In Istanbul, soldiers gained control over the Dogan Media Center, which contains multiple news outlets including Hurriyet newspaper, the English-language Hurriyet Daily News and television stations CNN Turk and Kanal D.

Hostages were also taken in Ankara, where a news anchor for state broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television was forced to read a televised statement announcing the coup attempt at gunpoint. All hostages were eventually released and broadcasting resumed as normal by the morning of 16 July.

Regulatory body blocks access to news websites

17 July: Turkey’s telecommunications regulatory body, TIB, blocked access to five websites including media outlets Gazetport, Haberdar, Medyascope, ABC Gazetesi, and Can Erzincan TV. Twenty more were blocked two days later following approval from a judge.

Release of list of journalists to be detained

18 July: A pro-government Twitter user released a list of journalists who were accused of involvement in the coup and therefore subject to arrest. Journalists from both state and privately run media outlets were included on the list, which was circulated via social media at a time when public authority figures began to take measures to shut down websites that were critical of the government.

Accreditation of 34 journalists taken away

19 July: At least 34 journalists had their press credentials revoked in the aftermath of the coup. The decertifications impacted journalists from a variety of media outlets, including the daily newspaper Meydan, the liberal Taraf, Nokta magazine and Irmak TV. The Directorate General of Press and Information of Turkey stated the decertifications were done for the sake of national security in the aftermath of the coup.  

Mapping Media Freedom logged a number of threats to press freedom from Turkey over the past seven days. Here are the rest of the reports:

15 July: One hour after the first reports of the coup attempt, social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, were blocked. Access was eventually restored.

15 July:  A photographer for Hurriyet, Selcuk Samiloglu, was physically attacked by a group of men while attempting to cover clashes on the Bosphorus Bridge.

15 July: CNN Turk cameraman Ahmet Akpolat was restrained by the neck and verbally threatened by military personnel when he refused to comply with a demand to hand over a tape during a raid of the Dogan TV building in Istanbul. His camera was broken.

15 July: Three CNN Turk reporters — Goksel Goksu, Fulya Ozturk and cameraman Onur Ozel  were beaten and their equipment damaged when they tried to film developments in Taksim Square.

18 July: Several Turkish TV channels, including Halk TV, IMC TV and Hayatin Sesi TV, were temporarily blocked.

19 July: The office of Istanbul newspaper Gazetem Istanbul was vandalised by several dozen men claiming the publication had supported the failed coup.

19 July: Valentin Trushnin, a reporter for Russian TV channel REN, was revealed to be on Turkey’s “banned foreigners list” when he was taken into custody at Ataturk Airport.   

19 July: Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council canceled broadcasting licenses for 24 TV channels and radio stations due to their alleged ties to the Gülen movement.

20 July: Local police barred LeMan, a satirical Turkish magazine, from printing and distributing its newest issue, a special edition on the failed coup.

20 July: Access to Wikileaks was blocked after it released 30,000 emails from President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

20 July: The office of Meydan was searched and editor-in-chief Levent Kenez and editorial manager Gulizar Baki were arrested. They have since been released. 

21 July: Ozgur Dusunce (Free Thought) newspaper columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz and his wife Sibel Hurtas were arrested upon arrival at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Hurtas has since been released.

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at https://mappingmediafreedom.org/

Yavuz Baydar: As the purge deepens in Turkey, is a self-coup underway?

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during a state visit to Ecuador in February 2016. (Photo: Cancillería del Ecuador via flickr

The failed 15 July coup, bloody and despicable, delivered a lethal blow to the already crippled democratic order in Turkey. The cabal behind the putsch has become a midwife to Turkey’s “autogolpe” or self-coup. With every step, President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) backers have introduced further restrictive sanctions.

This creeping self-coup is a prospect I raised in early 2014 with a long analysis for the German edition of Le Monde Diplomatique entitled Putsch im Zeitlupe. In that article I pointed out the parallels between the career of Alberto Fujimori, the former Peruvian president who is in prison for his corruption, and the increasingly autocratic methods employed by Erdogan.

The reaction to the totally unacceptable coup so far sadly has endorsed my theory. The reformatting of the Turkish state is now in fast-forward mode with a massive purge underway.

Tension has spilled over into academia. The head of the Supreme Board of High Education (YÖK), which itself is the product of the 1980 military coup d’état, called all the presidents of universities to an emergency meeting. It was followed by two drastic steps: YÖK issued a directive demanding the resignations of 1,577 deans across the country and, on Wednesday morning, blocked travel for all academics who were travelling abroad. YÖK also ordered all Turkish academics resident in universities in other countries to return home.

The media has been strangled even further. Within the past 48 hours, around 20 news sites were blocked by the Telecommunications Authority (TIB). On Tuesday night, the High Board of Radio and TV (RTUK) cancelled the licences of 24 TV and radio channels. The office of the press directorate announced that the press cards of 34 editors and reporters were cancelled. Officials cited “linkage with FETO structures” when explaining the bans. According to Turkish authorities, FETO is the terrorist organisation headed by the US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, who has created a parallel state and is behind the failed coup.

The daily Özgür Düşünce, now accused of being an extension of “FETO terror organisation”, announced on Wednesday it was shutting down. The irony is that the daily that had assembled the finest core of liberal columnists who for many years struggled for a democratic order.

Also on Wednesday the editor of Meydan daily Levent Kenez and managing editor Gülizar Baki were arrested during a police raid without any explanation. Both are first class journalists.

Another drama has been developing around Wikileaks, which has published nearly 300,000 emails along with thousands of attached files from 762 mailboxes that allegedly belong to email domain of the AKP. The e-mails span between 2010 and June 2016.

Wikileaks was banned after some hours. “Turks will likely be censored to prevent them reading our pending release of 100k+ docs on politics leading up to the coup,” an earlier statement by Wikileaks read. It was later reported that ”WikiLeaks’ infrastrucutre was under sustained attack” following its announcement.

Concerns are at the alert level internationally. The International Federations of Journalists and the European Federations of Journalists contacted the Council of Europe about a series of new press freedom violations. Mapping Media Freedom has logged 18 violations of press freedom aimed at news outlets or professionals since the night of the coup attempt.

All journalists affiliated with the independent outlets know they have to work on the realistic presumption that conditions will worsen for them. If the Erdogan-led government has decided to deepen the path towards a self-coup and to utilise the extraordinary circumstances to ruthlessly settle scores with all dissent and opposition, the presumption is legitimate. All segments of civil society may soon be unable to avoid feeling they have been “taken hostage” as a result of the coup attempt that has pushed Turkey back decades.

A version of this article was originally posted to Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is published here with permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.