Index on Censorship joins Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) to report that the internationally acclaimed cartoonist Musa Kart is again a prisoner this World Press Freedom Day.
In November 2016 Musa Kart was one of a number of staff from the Cumhuriyet newspaper arrested without charge. He and his colleagues’ subsequent months in Silivri prison would be described as unlawful by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, “being in contravention of articles 10, 11 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 14, 15 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
In April 2017 he was formally indicted with “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member” and “abusing trust”, prosecutors stipulating a maximum sentence of twenty-nine years. His trial began in July 2017. His funny, excoriating opening statement is worth reading in full.
After twelve months of court proceedings (arduous litigation being a well-worn censorious tactic) Kart was eventually found guilty and sentenced to three years and nine months. The appeals lodged on behalf of all those who received shorter sentences during the Cumhuriyet trials failed in February this year. Kart was informed he would be required to go to prison for one year and sixteen days.
On April 25th he and five colleagues – board members Önder Çelik and M.Kemal Güngör, news director Hakan Kara, columnist Güray Öz and financial officer Emre İper – decided to hand themselves in at Kandıra prison, a typically dignified and brave gesture.
Musa’s ultimate incarceration represents the culmination of fifteen years of persecution by then prime minister, now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who twice tried and twice failed to use court action to silence the cartoonist in 2005 and 2014.
As those who have followed recent history in Turkey will be aware, the attempted coup of July 2016 and the subsequent state of emergency provided Erdoğan the pretext required to round up many of his perceived enemies in academia, local government, the military, press and media. His victory in the April 2017 referendum, granting the president greater powers, and subsequent re-election in 2018 have only entrenched his position. In survey after survey Turkey remains the world’s number one jailer of journalists.
Kart is a past winner of CRNI’s Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, was given the Cartooning For Peace Swiss Foundation’s Prix International du Dessin de Presse last year and is currently the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Maison du Dessin de Presse, Morges. He formally retired from cartooning in December 2017.
The undersigned organizations join Index and CRNI in calling for the immediate release of Musa Kart and his five courageous colleagues and the dismissal of all charges against the criminalised former staff of Cumhuriyet. This World Press Freedom Day we express our solidarity with all those suffering in the protracted and unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey, and call for its end.
A London protest calling for the release of jailed Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt (Image: Index on Censorship)
Press freedom is at a decade low. Considering just a handful of the events of the past year — from Russian crackdowns on independent media and imprisoned journalists in Egypt, to press in Ukraine being attacked with impunity and government reactions to reporting on mass surveillance in the UK — it is not surprising that Freedom House have come to this conclusion in the latest edition of their annual press freedom report. This serves as a stark reminder that press freedom is a right we need to work continuously and tirelessly to promote, uphold and protect — both to ensure the safety of journalists and to safeguard our collective right to information and ability to hold those in power to account. On the eve of World Press Freedom day, we look back at some of the threats faced by the world’s press in the last 12 months.
1) Journalism is not terrorism…
National security has been used as an excuse to crack down on the press this year. “Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices,” say Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in their recently released 2014 Press Freedom Index.
Journalists have faced terrorism and national security-related accusations in places known for their somewhat chequered relationship with press freedom, including Ethiopia and Egypt. However, the US and the UK, which have long prided themselves on respecting and protecting civil liberties, have also come under criticism for using such tactics — especially in connection to the ongoing revelations of government-sponsored mass surveillance.
American authorities have gone after former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, tapped the phones of Associated Press staff, and demanded that journalists, like James Risen, reveal their sources. British authorities, meanwhile, detained David Miranda under the country’s Terrorism Act. Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the mass surveillance story. Authorities also raided the offices of the Guardian — a paper heavily involved in reporting in the Snowden leaks.
2) …but governments still like putting journalists in prison
The Al Jazeera journalists detained in Egypt on terrorism-related charges was one of the biggest stories on attacks on press freedom this year. However, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and their colleagues are far from the only journalists who will spend World Press Freedom Day behind bars. The latest prison census from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) put the number of journalists in jail for doing their job at 211 — their second highest figure on record.
In Bahrain, award-winning photographerAhmed Humaidan was sentenced in March to ten years in prison. In Uzebekistan, Muhammad Bekjanov, editor of opposition paper Erk, is serving a 19-year sentence — which was increased from 15 in 2012, just as he was due to be released. In Turkey, after waiting seven years, Fusün Erdoğan, former general manager of radio station Özgür Radyo, was last November sentenced to life in jail. Just last Friday, Ethiopian authorities arrested prominent political journalist Tesfalem Waldyes and six bloggers and activists.
3) New media is under attack…
As more journalism is being conducted online, blogs, social and other new media are increasingly being targeted in the suppression of press freedom. Almost half of the world’s jailed journalists work for online outlets, according to the CPJ. China — with its massive censorship apparatus — has continued censoring microblogging site Sina Weibo, while also turning its attention to relative newcomer WeChat. In March, it closed down several popular accounts, including that of investigative journalist Luo Changping.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has publicly all but declared war on social media, at one point calling it the “worst menace to society”. Twitter played a big role in last summer’s Gezi Park protests, used by journalists and other protesters alike. Only days ago, Turkish journalist Önder Aytaç was jailed, essentially, because of the letter “k” in a Tweet.
Only one in seven people in the world live in countries with free press. In many parts of the world, mainstream media is either under tight control by the government itself or headed up media moguls with links to those in power, with dissenting voices within news organisation often being pushed out. Brazil, for instance, has been labelled “the country of 30 Berlusconis” because regional media is “weakened by their subordination to the centres of power in the country’s individual states”. At the start of the year, RIA Novosti — known for on occasion challenging Russian authorities — was liquidated and replaced by the more Kremlin-friendly Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), while in Montenegro, has seen efforts by the government to cut funding to critical media. This is not even mentioning countries like North Korea and Uzbekistan, languishing near the bottom of press freedom ratings, where independent journalism is all but non-existent.
5) Attacks on journalists often go unpunished
A staggering fact about the attacks on journalists around the world, is how many happen with impunity. Since 1992, 600 journalists have been killed. Most of the perpetrators of those crimes have not been brought to justice. Attacks can be orchestrated by authorities or by non-state actors, but the lack of adequate responses by those in power “fuels the cycle of violence against news providers,” says RSF. In Mexico, a country notorious for violence against the press, three journalists were murdered in 2013. By last October, the state public prosecutor’s office had yet to announce any progress in the cases of Daniel Martínez Bazaldúa, Mario Ricardo Chávez Jorge and Alberto López Bello, or disclose whether they are linked to their work. Pakistan is also an increasingly dangerous place to work as a journalist. Twenty seven of the 28 journalists killed in the past 11 years in connection with their work have been killed with impunity. Syria, with its ongoing, devastating war, is the deadliest place in the world to be a journalist, while some of the attacks on press during the conflict in Ukraine, have also taken place without perpetrators being held accountable. That attacks in the country appear to be accelerating, CPJ say is “a direct result of the impunity with which previous attacks have taken place”.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office marked today’s World Press Freedom Day with the launch of their “Shine a light” campaign. According to the FCO, “‘Shine a light’ aims to highlight repression of the media across the world through personal testimonies. Journalists and activists from around the world will be tell their stories of harassment and other restrictions on press freedom as guest bloggers.”
The link leads to two articles: one by Anwar Abdulrahman, of the pro-Bahraini regime Akhbar Al Khaleej and its sister paper Gulf Daily News, and one bylined “Citizens for Bahrain“, apparently a pro-government astroturfing exercise.
The pieces themselves are quite something: Abdulrahman is worth quoting at length:
From my desk as Editor-in-Chief, I believe that freedom should be based on humanness, righteousness and debate, not anarchy and terror. For in this era of open skies and the Internet, to misuse freedom is easy. Any story can be fabricated, any person or government defamed at the touch of a computer screen.
Another thought…as much as beasts cannot be left to roam freely, so in human society the feral element’s freedom should be under control.
That’s the Bahraini opposition, many of whom have been locked up for exercising their right to free expression, he’s referring to as the “feral element”.
Citizens for Bahrain, meanwhile, inform us:
It is time to practice this freedom in a suitable manner and not to abuse it. Freedom of the press is certainly a right, but it must be used with care and wisdom. When used such a manner it can be influential in developing and enlightening society, making this society more resilient both in times of trouble and times of peace.
In conclusion, we say this: Express your views openly and honestly; but put your country before your personal interests.
That is to say, “shut up”.
Why the embassy chooses to mark World Press Freedom Day by publishing two articles in support of censorship, and a regime that imprisons protesters, including Index award winner Nabeel Rajab, is a mystery.