Index relies entirely on the support of donors and readers to do its work.
Help us keep amplifying censored voices today.
A coalition of leading international free expression and press freedom groups condemns the Turkish government’s refusal to allow supporters to visit journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who are behind bars for reports claiming that Turkey’s intelligence agency secretly armed Islamist rebel groups in Syria, and calls for their immediate release.
Dündar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, and Gül, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, are being held at the high-security Silivri Prison, west of Istanbul, reportedly awaiting trial on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation, espionage and disclosure of classified documents.
The charges remain unclear, as the defendants have not been allowed to review indictments against them. However, the case is believed to stem from a May 29, 2015 report published in Cumhuriyet that included a video purportedly showing Turkish security forces searching intelligence agency trucks en route to Syria containing crates of ammunition and weapons.
In recent years, when nearly 100 journalists were held in Turkish prisons, journalists in Turkey were often allowed to visit their imprisoned colleagues. However, in recent months, Turkey’s Justice Ministry has effectively barred most visits for both Dündar and Gül; the only visitors allowed to see them are close family members, lawyers or members of Turkey’s Parliament.
Following the Ministry’s recent refusals to respond to visitation requests put forward by journalists’ groups in Turkey and others, a coalition of 11 international free expression and press freedom defenders submitted a joint request on Jan. 8, 2016 seeking permission to visit Dündar and Gül on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
The coalition includes the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), PEN International, the World Association of Newspaper Publishers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the South East Europe Media Organisation.
On Jan. 22, however, Turkey’s Justice Ministry denied the request. In a response, the Ministry cited articles of statute and regulation requiring the Ministry’s permission for such a visit and indicated that the request was denied because permission to visit was not given.
The coalition condemns Turkey’s refusal to allow supporters to visit Dündar and Gül, who were held in solitary confinement for 40 days before finally being allowed to share a cell together early this month, as well as the charges against them.
The persecution of these journalists in retaliation for having reported on a matter of urgent and undeniable public interest, and the refusal to permit visitation in the manner that any other prisoner would be allowed, represent a violation of their rights and a gross abuse of authority. This wrong is compounded by the fact that neither Dündar nor Gül have been convicted of any crime, much less informed of the allegations against them.
The misuse of anti-terror law against these journalists is only the latest in a litany of such cases in Turkey, and joins a list of developments that illustrate growing authoritarianism and a blatant erosion of human rights. They include politicisation of the judiciary, the similar abuse of other criminal laws, the imposition of outright bans on disseminating certain content, the use of state agencies and economic levers to silence media outlets, verbal and – in some cases – physical attacks on critical journalists, and the orchestration of online hate campaigns targeting government critics, among others.
The coalition accordingly calls on Turkish authorities to free Dündar and Gül without delay, to drop all charges against them, and to free all other journalists currently detained in connection with their journalism or the opinions they have expressed. It further urges lawmakers in Turkey to take steps to reverse the country’s trend toward authoritarianism and urges the governments of democratic countries to pressure the Turkish government to meet its human rights commitments under domestic and international law.
-The International Press Institute (IPI)
-The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
-Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
-The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
-The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
-Index on Censorship
-The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN)
-The World Association of Newspaper Publishers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
-The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Turkish Cypriot daily Afrika reported on 30 August 2015 that the Turkish military forces in Cyprus had accused the paper of being against “the army and the flag”. Afrika’s articles had allegedly offended Turkish forces and made “people alienated from the army”, according to the case.
Editor-in-chief Sener Levent and writer Mahmut Anayasa, both of whom had shared an Afrika article from July on social media, were called to the prosecutor’s office for questioning. According to Costas Mavridis, a Greek Cypriot Member of the European Parliament, this is not the first time Levent has faced accusations. Both were later released.
After the questioning of Levent and Anayasa, Mavridis asked the European Commission about what actions are to be taken in order to protect the two European citizens.
“This action is clearly against human rights, specifically freedom of expression,” Mavridis said. He added that the only way for them to be safe is by making their case known to international and European public opinion, which is why he is proposing that Levent should be the Cypriot candidate for the European Citizen Prize 2015. “Sener Levent’s uninterrupted struggle for freedom of expression is a brave stance in favour of fundamental principles of the European culture at the risk of his life,” Mavridis said.
Yurdakul Cafer from the Association of Turkish Cypriot Journalists, speaking to Index on Censorship, stressed that, “media and the press in Northern Cyprus enjoy freedom of expression to a large degree”.
Before the opening of Afrika, Levent was to be the editor-in-chief of one of the first pro-European newspapers in Northern Cyprus, Avrupa, which means “Europe” in Turkish. According to a statement by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) from November 2000, the daily Avrupa was firebombed. “Extensive damage was caused and the printing house is no longer operating,” according to statement.
The IFJ had also noted that the attack “followed a period of court fines and official harassment designed to try to close down the newspaper”. Levent and other journalists were at the centre of these legal measures. As a result, the newspaper folded and was replaced by Afrika few years later.
The 2014 Freedom House report states that overall the situation of the media in Northern Cyprus is “free”. “Some media outlets are openly critical of the government,” it writes, although “in recent years some journalists who espouse anti-government positions were physically attacked, apparently by members of nationalist groups”.
“There were no such incidents in 2013,” the report concluded.
Cafer, who is also a news editor at Bayrak Radio Television, said that “despite Ankara’s strong political and military presence in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot newspapers, TV and radio stations are exceptionally democratic and open to discuss sensitive public, social and economic issues”.
The 2015 World Press Freedom Index placed the territory at 76 for media freedom in the world. Cyprus was ranked 24 in the world for press freedom. Turkey, which Northern Cyprus depends on, ranked 149 and continues to have high levels of violations against media, according to verified reports logged to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project.
Cafer said that Levent “was taken to court on charges of espionage but the charges brought against him were not for what he wrote,” adding that “he has been released”. “If there is no trial or if you are not jailed then I don’t think that’s persecution. There is no pressure or persecution in TRNC,” Cafer said, claiming that a lot has changed since the 1996 assassination of Kutlu Adali.
Adali, a journalist for the Northern Cypriot newspaper Yeni Duzen, was fatally shot outside his home. According to Mavridis, before Adali’s assassination he had announced his willingness to reveal some facts about the government’s immigration policies, specifically the Turkish settlers in Northern Cyprus. “Adali’s murder was a dark chapter in this country’s history, but there is no other incident like this one and that Turkey or TRNC does not exist anymore,” Cafer told Index on Censorship.
Overall, Cafer is optimistic about the future of media freedom in Northern Cyprus, while he points out that “the biggest problem and threat to peace and reconciliation in Cyprus” could be “online media”. “Many online news outlets,” he explained, “have popped up and many of them disregard the main principles of journalism or any code of ethics, spreading misinformation or doing more harm than good. I think we need more legislation that protects good journalism, not legislation that curtails freedoms,” he concluded.
However, Mavridis, using a phrase from another Turkish Cypriot journalist, who was prosecuted and threatened many times in the past, stresses that “even when a bird flies in Northern Cyprus, it’s with the permission or the tolerance of the manager of the Turkish occupying forces”.
Mapping Media Freedom
The International Press Institute (IPI) released a report on the Joint International Emergency Press Freedom Mission to Turkey undertaken last week by a broad coalition of international free expression and press freedom groups.
The report builds on mission participants’ finding that escalating pressure on media in the period between parliamentary elections in June and repeat polls set for Sunday has significantly impacted journalists’ ability to report on matters of public interest and is likely to “have a significant, negative impact on the ability of voters in Turkey to share and receive necessary information, with a corresponding effect on Turkey’s democracy”.
It does so through 10 brief chapters by mission participants that set forth details on main areas of concern that the participants identified in a joint declaration last week following the close of the mission. The report also contains an evaluation of the degree to which authorities in Turkey have heeded recommendations that IPI set forth six months ago in its report, “Democracy at Risk, IPI Special Report on Turkey, 2015”, concluding that authorities have largely failed to take necessary steps to remedy ongoing threats to media freedom.
“Pressure on media has continued to increase following our mission and we remain extremely concerned about the deteriorating state of press freedom in Turkey and its impact both on the Nov. 1 elections and beyond,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “We again call for an immediate end to all efforts to hinder or prevent journalists from giving voters in Turkey the information they need to make an informed decision about their future.”
From Oct. 19 to 21, mission participants met in Istanbul and Ankara with journalists, political representatives and foreign diplomats to demonstrate solidarity with their colleagues in the news media in Turkey and to focus attention in Turkey and abroad on the impact the growing pressure on independent media is likely to have on the Nov. 1 election.
The unprecedented mission brought together representatives from eight leading international press freedom and free expression groups, including IPI, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Article 19, Index on Censorship and the Ethical Journalism Network. Delegates were also joined by members of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and IPI’s National Committee in Turkey.
Concern over the deteriorating state of press freedom in Turkey and its impact on upcoming Nov. 1 parliamentary elections have prompted a coalition of international free expression groups to undertake an emergency press freedom mission to the country, the International Press Institute (IPI) announced.
From Oct. 19 to 21, mission participants will meet in Istanbul and Ankara with journalists, political representatives and foreign diplomats to demonstrate solidarity with their colleagues in the news media and to focus attention in Turkey and abroad on the impact the growing pressure on independent media is likely to have on the election.
The unprecedented mission will bring together representatives from eight leading international press freedom and free expression groups, including IPI, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists, Article 19, Index on Censorship and the Ethical Journalism Network.
The mission will conclude with a press conference at 13:00 on Oct. 21 at the offices of the Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC), at Türkocağı Cad. No: 1, Cağaloğlu, Istanbul.
Since late August, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called a repeat of June elections after lawmakers were unable to form a government, Turkey has witnessed a series of increasingly troubling incidents targeting journalists and media. Among others, they include physical attacks on journalists and media outlets; raids on media outlets and seizures of publications; threatening rhetoric directed at journalists; and the increasing use of criminal insult and anti-terrorism laws to chill independent reporting.
Next week’s mission will focus on these incidents, as well as the ongoing imprisonment of numerous journalists in Turkey and the deportations of foreign journalists, particularly those
attempting to cover deadly clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) and Turkey’s participation in the international fight against the Islamic State group.
The mission comes as satellite and online television providers have accepted prosecutors’ demands to stop carrying the signals of broadcasters critical of the government.
“The upcoming election is likely to decide Turkey’s direction for the coming decade and its outcome will have far-reaching implications for Turkey, its neighbours, the West and the wider world,” IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “IPI and its partners are undertaking this emergency press freedom mission to Turkey to stand in solidarity with our colleagues under pressure, and to demand that voters be allowed to make an informed decision about their future and that the media be allowed to report freely to give voters the information they need to do so.”
The deterioration of press freedom in Turkey represents the culmination of a years-long trend documented earlier this year in an IPI Special Report on the country, “Democracy at Risk” (also available in Turkish).
For more information about the Oct. 21 Press Conference at 13:00, please contact the Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) by telephone at +90 (0 212) 513 83 00 or via email at [email protected].