Turkey: War on journalists rages on

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

The ongoing deterioration in Turkey’s press freedom has been well documented by Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project since its launch in 2014. The crackdown appears to be getting worse, according to a new report by Amnesty International this month. It states that the “human rights situation deteriorated markedly” in Turkey in 2015, as did respect for freedom of expression, including criminal detention though anti-terror laws and the targeting of anyone critical of government policy.

Despite the welcome release of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül on 26 February, the situation for media freedom looks uncertain. Here are some of the most worrying reports from February.

Journalists killed

In total, Mapping Media Freedom has recorded the deaths of 15 journalists since July 2014. Seven of these deaths have occurred in Turkey, two of those in this year alone. Gülsen Yıldız, a journalist working in Ankara for Tarim TV, was killed on 18 February. She was among 28 people who died during a terrorist attack on passing military vehicles in the capital.

Source: Index on Censorship / Mapping Media Freedom

Later in February, the discovery of a body, later identified as journalist Rohat Aktaş, in the southeastern town of Cizre. Aktaş had been shot in the arm in late January while covering efforts to help those wounded during clashes between Kurdish separatists and Turkish forces.

On 24 February, Dicle-Haber reported that Aktaş’ body was identified by DNA tests carried out by the forensic authority. “Scores” of people are reported to have been killed in Cizre following a raid by security services on buildings they say harboured Kurdish separatist fighters. The exact details of Aktaş’ death are currently unknown.

Journalists detained on anti-terror charges

This year began on a somewhat positive note with the 5 January release of VICE News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool. Rasool, an Iraqi Kurdish reporter, had been detained since 27 August 2015 while reporting in the country’s southeast and charged with working for a terrorist organisation.

On 11 February, Nazım Daştan, a journalist for Dicle News Agency (DİHA), which reports in Kurdish, was arrested in Gaziantep on charges of spreading online propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish state lists as a terrorist group. On the next day, he was brought to testify in court and then taken to jail.

On the same date, Feyyaz İmrak, also journalist for Dicle News Agency (DİHA), was arrested along with 16 others on charges of being members of the PKK. Police searched his home and confiscated his reporting equipment and notes.

İmrak appeared before a criminal court 15 February to hear the charges against him, and is currently being held at Antalya Prison, pending trial.

Journalists denied access

For any journalist, access to sources is essential for their ability to carry out their duties. The denial of access is a major problem for journalists in Turkey, something foreign journalists know all too well.

On 9 February, Turkish authorities rejected a permanent press accreditation application filed by Silje Rønning Kampesæter, a correspondent for Norway’s Aftenposten. The press accreditation application also affects her residence permit in Turkey. No reason was given for the rejection.

The authorities also detained Claus Blok Thomsen, a Danish journalist working for Denmark’s daily newspaper Politiken, at the Istanbul airport, barring him from entering the country. The journalist was seeking access to report on refugees at the Turkish-Syrian border.

When Thomsen identified himself as a journalist, police forced him to open his phone and computer, undermining the confidentiality of his sources. He was then detained in a cell overnight and put on a plane to Copenhagen the next day. He was reportedly told to not try re-entering Turkey.

Also see:
Statement: Index condemns seizure of Zaman
Sign Our Petition: End Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom
Letter: Writers and artists condemn seizure of Zaman news group
Reaction: Turkish court orders seizure of Zaman news group

This article was originally published at Index on Censorship.

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/

Free expression groups call on Turkey to release Mohammed Ismael Rasool

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey
T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği
06689 Çankaya, Ankara

Dear President Erdoğan,

We, the undersigned free expression organisations, call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammed Ismael Rasool, a Kurdish fixer for VICE News. Rasool has remained imprisoned in Turkey on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization” for over two months despite the release of two British colleagues with whom he was initially detained.

Rasool, correspondent Jake Hanrahan, and cameraman Philip Pendlebury were all taken into police custody in the city of Diyarbakir, on 27 August while covering the current conflict in southeastern Turkey for VICE News. Specifically, they were reporting on clashes between Turkish security forces and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, the youth wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The lawyer representing Rasool, Hanrahan and Pendlebury has stated that the police responded to a tipoff by an anonymous caller who alleged that they were assisting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Following their detention, the journalists were questioned by anti-terrorism police, and on 31 August, all three were charged on baseless and false accusations using Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws. On 3 September, Hanrahan and Pendlebury were released, while Rasool continues to languish in prison.

We add our voice to communities, organisations and governments around the world calling for Rasool’s immediate release. A petition created by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has obtained over 80,000 signatures so far, and PEN International, along with almost 80 writers, journalists and press freedom organisations, have published an open letter to President Erdoğan. The United States Department of State has also called on Turkey to uphold due process for Rasool.

From 19 to 21 October 2015, a joint emergency mission to Turkey was conducted to investigate the status of press freedom and free expression in the country. Representatives from international, regional and local groups involved in the mission found that the pressure on journalists operating in Turkey has sharply escalated in the time between the 7 June parliamentary elections, which resulted in a hung parliament, and the recent election held on 1 November. The mission determined that such pressure has severely affected the ability of journalists to report independently and freely, which may in turn have had a critically negative effect on the ability of voters in Turkey to share and obtain important information, and therefore engage fully in the democratic process.

Broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes have allowed Turkish authorities to conflate the coverage of banned groups like the PKK with terrorism or other ‘anti-state’ activity. As a result, journalists seeking to objectively cover PKK activities have often beenimprisoned or obstructed. The use of these anti-state offense charges is just one way that the Turkish media is being intimidated and silenced in an increasing and long-term crackdown on legitimate journalism.

Media personnel must be allowed to operate freely without fear of unfounded persecution. We express solidarity with all of the journalists operating in Turkey, including Rasool and the other journalists imprisoned in the country. We, the undersigned, call on President Erdoğan and the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against Mohammed Ismael Rasool and ensure his immediate release. We further call for increased efforts to hold those responsible for violations of, and attacks on, free expression rights, and press freedom in the post-election environment and beyond.


Albanian Media Institute
Association for Civil Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Child Rights International Network
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom Forum
Fundamedios – Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Publishers Association
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Watch
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Privacy International
Public Association “Journalists”
Reporters Without Borders
Social Media Exchange – SMEX
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Canadian Association of Journalists
Canadian Media Guild
Centre for Law and Democracy
International Partnership for Human Rights
Newspapers Canada
Platform London