We can’t remain silent while journalists are being arrested by dozens

As arrests of journalists and media closures proliferate, the International and the European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) have called on the European Union to take additional steps to hold Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accountable for the overt breaches of press freedom. On the evening of 27 July, the Turkish government issued its latest decree and ordered the closure of 131 media organisations including three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio stations, 45 daily newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses.

Attempting to defend the crackdown against accusations of a repressive assault on democracy and one of its chief pillars, the freedom of the press, Turkish government spokespeople now argue that the enforced closures and associated arrests are in fact designed to protect democracy and strengthen press freedom. The twisted logic behind this claim is that the targets of Turkish state repression are all, without exception, enemies of democracy and opponents of a free press, and were all implicated in the failed coup of 16 July, by virtue of alleged association with the pro-Gülen movement.

Fetullah Gülen, a former colleague of Erdogan who exiled himself to the United States in 1999, has recently written an article in the New York Times setting the history of the growing conflict between Erdogan and Gülen’s Hizmet movement .

“Like many Turkish citizens, the Hizmet movement’s participants supported Mr. Erdogan’s early efforts to democratize Turkey and fulfil the requirements for membership in the European Union” writes Gülen. “But we were not silent as he turned from democracy to despotism. Even before these new purges, Mr. Erdogan in recent years has arbitrarily closed newspapers; removed thousands of judges, prosecutors, police officers and civil servants from their positions; and taken especially harsh measures against Kurdish communities. He has declared his detractors enemies of the state.”

Gülen cites a purge in Turkey in 2013 as evidence of Erdogan’s animosity towards Hizmet (the name means “Service”). Gülen argues that Muslims should build schools not mosques and urges interfaith dialogue in every country where Hizmet has members. The organisation, which has no formal structure, boasts millions of supporters across the globe, including Turkey where many of them can be found in those echelons of society that are currently under attack — the army, the civil service, the media and even Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist AK Party (the Justice and Development Party).

The problem is that there is suspicion that Hizmet seeks to infiltrate Turkish society in order to seize power, but there is no doubt that since 2014, when Erdogan swapped his three term prime ministerial role for the largely ceremonial position of president, he has pursued the goal of establishing an executive presidency which he would occupy. This looks unpleasantly like an attempt to gain dictatorial power, a suspicion that can only be deepened by a report from Reuters news agency on 28 July that Erdogan wants the Turkish armed forces and national intelligence agency (MIT) to be brought under the control of the presidency.

“In Turkey, the Erdogan government’s shift toward a dictatorship,” Gülen writes in his New York Times piece, “is polarizing the population along sectarian, political, religious and ethnic lines, fuelling the fanatics.

“For the sake of worldwide efforts to restore peace in turbulent times, as well as to safeguard the future of democracy in the Middle East, the United States must not accommodate an autocrat who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government.”

Since the coup, the IFJ and EFJ have monitored the number of arrests of journalists and media closures on the grounds of alleged association with the pro-Gülen movement, which has been accused by Erdogan loyalists of actually organising the failed coup. It is clear that many of the news titles and individuals silenced in the clampdown have in the past criticised Hizmet, while according the Committee to  Protect Journalists (CPJ) the Turkish authorities have consistently refused to detail the basis on which they are judging whether individuals or media outlets have any connections with Hizmet.

The IFJ/EFJ now argue that the fear of arrest on the part of those working in the media is leading to an increase in self-censorship. The process looks like a clear infringement of fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. But under the current state of emergency, Mr. Erdogan’s government has suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, while a government spokesman recently rejected Amnesty International’s statement that they had “credible” reports of torture at Turkish detention centres.

According to IFJ/EFJ latest information:

On 27 July, arrest warrants were issued against 47 former staff of the Zaman newspaper, an official said. Zaman daily columnist, Şahin Alpay, has been detained after police raided his house in the early morning hours. Lale Sariibrahimoglu, who used to work for Zaman and Today’s Zaman and currently reporting for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, was taken by police from her home. Columnist Nuriye Akman (former Zaman Daily) is also in custody.

On 27 July, the IFJ and EFJ listed at least 28 journalists detained, namely Yakup Sağlam, İbrahim Balta, Seyit Kılıç (former TRT reporter), Bayram Kaya, Cihan Acar, Nazlı Ilıcak, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Bülent Mumay (Birgün daily) ,Zeynel Abidin Bulut (Pro-Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat), Zehra Dogan (JINHA), Sahin Alpay (former Zaman), Nuriye Akman (former Zaman), Lale Sariibrahimoglu (former Zaman), Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne, Zafer Özsoy, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş (Cihan Medya Deputy Chair), Cuma Kaya, Murat Avcıoğlu, Osman Nuri Arslan, Şeref Yılmaz (Irmak TV), Hüseyin Turan, Faruk Akkan, Bünyamin Köseli (Aksiyon weekly), Abdullah Kılıç (Meydan), Hüseyin Aydın (Cihan News Agency), Cuma Ulus, Mustafa Erkan Acar (Cihan News Agency).

According to Bianet, Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and Özgür Gündem websites were also blocked on 27 July by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TİB) due to “administrative injunction”. Such a blocking is not the first of its kind since DiHA has been blocked 43 time this year and Özgür Gündem twice.

Last week, 20 independent online news portals, including Haberdar, Meydan and Medyascope, had already been shutdown following a decision of the TİB. A number of these have been critical of Hizmet in the past.

On 27 July in the evening the Turkish government  issued its decree ordering the closure of 131 media organisations. Media shut down include new agency Cihan Haber Aöansı, Bugün tv, Can Erzincan tv, Kanaltürk, Samanyolu tv, Bugün, Taraf, newspapers Zaman and Today’s Zaman, newspaper Yarına Bakış  magazines Sızıntı, Aksiyon, Nokta.  Again

IFJ president Philippe Leruth said: “The European union must take a stand and hold President Erdogan accountable for breaching the Human Rights Convention and muzzling the press. Global journalists are highly concerned by the escalation of attacks against the press in a country that calls itself a democracy. This situation must end immediately.”

EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregard and EFJ general secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez called on the European Union and the Council of Europe to act. “We can’t remain silent while journalists are being arrested by dozens right here in front of us. President Juncker and High Representative Mogherini must do everything in their power to end this worrying situation,” said Mogens Blicher Bjerregard.

The federations have reported all the cases monitored to the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Promotion of Journalism and the Protection of Journalists.


More information

Profile: Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement, BBC News, 18 December 2013.

Fetullah Gulen: I condemn all threats to Turkey’s democracy, New York Times, 25 July 2016.

Gulen Movement website

Turkey: Independent monitors must be allowed to access detainees amid torture allegations, Amnesty International website 24 July 2016.

Turkey’s “blacklist” casts a long shadow, CPJ, republished in IFEX, 20 July 2016.

Turkey: EU must hold Turkish president accountable for press freedom violations, IFJ website, 27 July 2016.

Turkey’s Erdogan wants army, spy agency brought under presidency control -Turkish official, REUTERS, 28 July 2016.

Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkish campaigning website (in Turkish and English)


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Gary Herman

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