In Turkey / Türkiye

By Constanze Letsch, The Guardian, July 25, 2016

Human rights groups criticise ‘witch hunt against journalists’ as Erdogan arrests those he claims to suspect of plotting the attempted putsch

Istanbul–Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists as part of an inquiry into alleged plotters of the failed coup, drawing harsh criticism from human rights groups.

Turkish journalists protest arrests of journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul in Nov 2015 (Adem Altan, AFP-Getty)

Turkish journalists protest arrests of journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul in Nov 2015 (Adem Altan, AFP-Getty)

Thousands of soldiers, police, judges, prosecutors and civil servants have been detained or arrested in connection with their supposed involvement in the attempted putsch of 15 July, but Monday’s arrest warrants are the first targeting members of the press.

The Turkish government blames the network of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a long-time ally of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now turned foe, for the bloody attempt at a military takeover.

But Erol Önderoglu, the Turkey representative for Reporters without Borders, said the latest arrest warrant was an unjustifiable “witch hunt against journalists”.

“It is impossible to find out if a journalist was involved in a serious way with the Gülen network or involved in the coup attempt by using such methods,” said Önderoglu, as five of the journalists were reportedly taken into custody for questioning.

“We recognise the government’s right to investigate the coup plotters, of course, but to respect the right to freedom of expression is one defining principle of a democracy. This is turning into a witch-hunt against journalists that needs to stop.”

One of the journalists targeted by Monday’s arrest warrant is believed to be Fatih Yagmur, an investigative journalist who was fired from his job at the now defunct Radikal daily in 2014 because of what his editors said was “very intense government pressure”.

The newspaper had published his report on trucks owned by the Turkish Intelligence Agency that transported weapons to Syria via Turkey without knowledge of the Turkish parliament, a story for which Yagmur was honoured with the EU Investigative Journalism Award 2015.

Speaking to the Guardian via telephone he said that he had left the country after the coup attempt last Friday because he started to receive a torrent of violent threats via social media, including threats of rape and death threats. It is not the first time. After the publication of his articles on the arms trucks he received similar threats.

“I fear for my life, I do not feel safe in Turkey. I do not intend to return before the state of emergency is lifted,” Yagmur said. He said that he was briefly detained at the border for having missed the hearing of a trial against him on charges of insulting the president.

“I spent the night in a cell with 40 soldiers, all of whom showed signs of torture, bruises and bloody wounds. They were not allowed to go to the toilet either. It was terrible. Because I saw this, I do not feel safe. I witnessed torture here.”

Yagmur added that in the past he had come under pressure from journalists and prosecutors affiliated with the Gülen movement, who had accused him of being a supporter of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) for reporting on the Kurdish issue.

Another prominent journalist and former Justice and Development party (AKP) lawmaker, Nazli Ilicak, is also among those targeted by the arrest warrant, according to Turkish news reports. She was fired from her job at the pro-government daily Sabah in 2013 after publicly criticising ministers involved in a major corruption scandal.

Prosecutors requested their detention to shed light on the coup plot and the warrants are not related to their “journalistic activities, but possible criminal conduct,” a senior official in Erdogan’s office said.

The crackdown that has followed the attempted coup continued in other sectors of Turkish society on Monday, as Turkish Airlines said it had fired 211 employees over suspected links to Gülen and behaviour “conflicting with the interest of our country”.

Thirty-one academics, including a number of professors, were also detained for questioning, official media reported, while security officials conducted a raid against the military’s Istanbul-based war academy, detaining 40 people.

Although Monday marked the first time since 15 July that arrest warrants had been issued for individual journalists, there has been a marked repression of the media since the failed coup that killed 265 and left more than 1,000 injured.

Several websites critical of the government were shut down in the aftermath of the attempt, and 34 government-issue press cards were revoked. More than 300 employees of the state broadcaster TRT were suspended last week, including an executive of the Media Workers’ Union, Kesk Haber-Sen.

Erdogan blames Gülen for instigating the sleaze investigation and the subsequent scandal that targeted him, his family, and members of his inner political circle.

“In Turkey, we never witness that a politician is brought before a court of law, or that a politician is seriously self-criticising,” Erol Önderoglu said. “Journalists are chosen as scapegoats because they are easy targets, they have started to become the target of veritable media-lynching campaigns in Turkey.”

Related reading:
Turkey’s media faces ‘unprecedented crisis’ says England chapter of PEN, The Guardian, Jan 27, 2016

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