A delegation of the world's leading watchdogs for press freedom ended an unprecedented emergency press freedom mission to Turkey, expressing solidarity with Turkish journalists and calling for an end to the aggressive oppression of the media that it said was hurting Turkish democracу, writes Today's Zaman.
The joint coalition is the first of its kind to unite leading watchdogs that included representatives from 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, the Index on Censorship and the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN). Never before have these organizations acted together for an extensive mission. The coalition made rounds to political actors and newspapers in Turkey on an emergency visit to the country prior to the upcoming election.
"Representatives of participating international, regional and local groups dedicated to press freedom and free expression find that pressure on journalists operating in Turkey has severely escalated in the period between parliamentary elections held June 7 and the upcoming elections," the mission said in a declaration on Wednesday.
"The representatives also determine that this pressure has significantly impacted journalists' ability to report on matters of public interest freely and independently, and that this pressure, if allowed to continue, 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."
David Diaz-Jogeix, the director of programs at Article 19, a London-based press freedom advocacy group, called directly on Turkish politicians to end the manipulation of criminal defamation and counterterrorism laws to silence the press, demanding for them “to remove criminal defamation from the legislation and revise anti-terrorism legislation so that it protects freedom of expression.”
“One of the key tools of censorship that currently exists in Turkey is the existing legislation of criminal defamation. A critical tool for censorship is also the fact that this legislation is proactively used and abused,” Diaz explained. He continued, “Let me be very clear:
The other tool for censorship in Turkey is the anti-terrorism legislation. Turkey should not use anti-terror legislation to suppress critical reporting because the people of this country have the right to know how the state is addressing security threats.”
Journalism is not a crime
Muzaffar Suleymanov, research associate from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Program, shared his concern for the physical safety of journalists, specifically addressing two consecutive attacks on the Hürriyet daily headquarters and the physical assault of Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan Coşkun outside his home in İstanbul in early October.
Alluding to Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which mandates that anyone convicted of insulting the president will serve a jail term of between one and four years, Suleymanov made critical remarks: “Authorities are not quick to react to probing those attacks [on journalists] -- not as quick as they are [to react to] so-called insults of the president.”
He stipulated that the government should abstain from launching criminal cases against journalists, noting that “journalism is not a crime.” Furthermore, the CPJ representative brought attention to VICE News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool, who remains in an Adana prison, where he has been detained since Aug. 28.
In its declaration, the delegation catalogued its long list of concerns, including “physical attacks on journalists and media outlets; raids on media outlets and seizures of publication; threatening rhetoric directed at journalists; the increasing use of criminal insults and anti-terrorism laws targeting the independent media and government critics; the ongoing imprisonment of journalists; deportations of foreign journalists; decisions by satellite and online television providers to stop carrying signals of broadcasters critical of the government.”
Calls for Solidarity
While freedom of the press in Turkey is under a dark cloud, there is one silver lining that has shown itself in the delegation's visit: the solidarity of journalists from a wide scope of political ideologies sitting together at one table. On Monday, a panel discussion was conducted by the efforts of local and international media watchdogs in İstanbul at the Pera Palace Hotel, where attendees from very different ideological backgrounds gathered. The state of the crisis has led to the unlikely mingling of editors-in-chief, including those from Özgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish movement daily, Cumhuriyet, a historically Kemalist daily, and the Zaman daily, which is affiliated with the conservative Gülen movement. This outcome is likely due to each outlet being separately targeted by the government.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi stated that the delegation supports the calls for solidarity that they have seen in their meetings with media outlets, but argued: “This does not mean that journalists or media houses need to be friends; journalists are by nature independent and media organizations will remain competitors. This is what contributes to a diversity of opinions and a healthy democracy.”
Later on, Trionfi cast light on the issue of the Kurdish media being under the greatest pressure in recent days, stating in her meetings with mainstream media that she has pressured them to report the attacks on all reporters, including Kurdish media journalists, for an attack on one journalist is an attack on them all.