Letters   |   Turkey

Journalists held without due process in Turkey

July 25, 2011 

Sadullah Ergin 
Minister of Justice 
Republic of Turkey 
T.C. Adalet Bakanlığı 06659 Kızılay Ankara 
Email: [email protected] 
Fax: 90 312 419 3370 

Dear Minister Ergin:

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending the rights of journalists worldwide, is alarmed by the ongoing detention of journalists in Turkey. We are also concerned by the large number of criminal cases opened against reporters under the sweeping provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act.

This year, the authorities have intensified a crackdown on journalists under the guise of the four-year-old investigation into an alleged nationalist military plot, known as "Ergenekon." On March 3, anti-terrorist police units in Istanbul raided the homes of at least 12 journalists, writers, and academics and seized notes and computers.

Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor then overseeing the probe into Ergenekon, said in a statement after ordering the raids that the investigation of the journalists was not as a result of their work but based on evidence that cannot be published because of the confidentiality of the ongoing investigation.

It is deeply disturbing that journalists in a democracy such as Turkey should be detained without due process on evidence that is kept secret. Many of those arrested during that raid are still in detention. Among them are two of Turkey's leading investigative journalists and authors, Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener.

Şener is a reporter for the daily Milliyet who received the International Press Institute's "World Press Freedom Hero" award last year for a book on the murder of journalist Hrant Dink.

Şık, who works for the magazine Nokta, has devoted his professional life to investigating the shadowy network of military officers and ultranationalist civil servants know as the "deep state," which for decades influenced Turkish political and economic life.

CPJ research in Turkey contradicts the assertion by prosecutor Öz that these journalists were not detained because of their journalism. Police seized a draft of Şık's unpublished book titled The Imam's Army, and have questioned him about his reporting. The unfinished book examines the growing influence of the Gülen movement inside the Turkish state, particularly in the police, and challenges some of the assumptions of the Ergenekon investigation. The Gülen movement was founded by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States.

During the campaign for parliamentary elections in June in which the ruling Justice and Development Party won an absolute majority, the government affirmed its commitment to freedom of expression. Since then, however, nothing has changed. During a visit to Turkey this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern that a democratic NATO ally should be locking up journalists for their work. "I do not think it's necessary or in Turkey's interest to be cracking down on journalists and bloggers and the Internet... .So I would, if I were in the Turkish government...be standing up for freedom of expression and freedom of journalism and freedom of bloggers and freedom of the Internet," she told a town hall meeting with young Turks.

In a report published July 12, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg called the state of media freedom in Turkey "particularly worrying" and urged the authorities to take urgent measures to uphold media rights and "foster a more tolerant atmosphere towards criticism and dissent."

Minister, we are also deeply concerned by the widespread use by prosecutors of anti-terrorism laws against journalists, particularly Kurdish journalists, to restrict coverage of Kurdish issues. Since the beginning of the Ergenekon affair prosecutors have increasingly resorted to provisions in the Criminal Code to curb reporting. The European Commission estimates that more than 4,000 investigations were under way in 2010 under Article 285 (reporting on a confidential criminal investigation) and Article 288 (attempting to influence trial proceedings).

The use of these and other criminal code provisions has led to a surge in journalist detentions to a level not seen since the 1990s.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe estimated earlier this year that Turkey, a candidate for European Union membership, was holding 57 journalists in prison. This would make Turkey the world's leading jailer of journalists, with almost twice as many journalists in detention as countries such as China or Iran.

Several press freedom groups, including CPJ, estimated the number for 2010 to be below 10 but it is extremely difficult to determine exactly how many journalists are being held because of a distinct lack of transparency on the part of the authorities. Journalists and press freedom advocates note that in many cases of detained journalists access to full information is routinely denied by authorities. In some cases that have been classified as secret, even defense lawyers are not given access to trial documents.

Minister, we call on you to ensure that Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, respects its obligations under international treaties and conventions, and affords all detained journalists due process under the law. This would include curbing the widespread use of secret evidence against journalists. 

We also urge you to publish immediately a complete list of all journalists currently behind bars, together with the reasons for their detention. It is deeply regrettable that as Turkey seeks to build its democratic institutions and economy, and join the democracies of Western Europe, it should revert to the practices of former authoritarian regimes and jail journalists for their work.

Sincerely.

Joel Simon

Executive Director

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