New York, March 7, 2011—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the wave of journalist arrests in Turkey in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government known as “Ergenekon.” At least 12 journalists have been detained in less than a month; and at least nine are currently in custody, according to international news reports.
On Sunday, Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor overseeing the probe into Ergenekon, said in a statement that the investigation of the journalists is not a result of their work but based on evidence that cannot be publicized because of the confidentiality of the ongoing investigation, according to Turkey’s Today’s Zaman.
On Thursday, Turkish police detained eight journalists after searching their homes and offices. In mid-February, police raided the office of Oda TV, a news website critical of the government, and detained four of its journalists. All are outspoken critics either of the police or the investigation, according to Agence France-Presse.
An Istanbul court ordered held today: Oda TV’s Sait Çakır, Doğan Yurdakul, Coşkun Musluk, and Müyesser Yıldız, according to news reports. The court ordered two more journalists held on Sunday: Nedim Şener, a Milliyet reporter who received in 2010 the International Press Institute’s “World Press Freedom Hero” award for his book about the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink; and weekly Nokta reporter Ahmet Şık, who was one of the first journalists to write about Ergenekon.
Şener and Şık are accused having links with the group that planned the coup, and were taken to Metris Prison in Istanbul, according to news reports. Another journalist, Mumtaz Idil, was also among the journalists detained on Thursday but was not transported to Istanbul with the others due to health problems; he remained in Ankara, according to news reports. CPJ was unable to determine whether he remained in custody. İklim Bayraktar, an Oda TV reporter, was picked up on Thursday and released on Saturday, Erol Onderoglu, an analyst for local press freedom group BIA, told CPJ.
“The detention of at least nine journalists on secret charges is a grave threat to press freedom in Turkey,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Turkey has made great strides since the early last 1990s, when it was the world’s leading jailer of journalists, but punitive laws and overly aggressive prosecutors mean the country remains a minefield for critical reporting. We call on the government of Turkey to release the imprisoned journalists and to make public any evidence it has against them.”
On February 14, Turkish police searched the office of Oda TV and detained Soner Yalçın, the site owner and founder; Barış Terkoğlu, news editor; and two editors and writers, Barış Pehlivan and Ayhan Bozkurt. The police confiscated books, notes, archive tapes, and equipment. The officers also copied hard drives, according to news reports. Bozkurt was released shortly after his interrogation but three other journalists remain in custody and were charged on February 18 with being a member of a “terrorist group,” “obtaining and publishing secret state security documents” and “inciting hatred,” according to news reports.
The European Commission expressed its concern over the recent wave of arrests. On Friday, hundreds of Turkish journalists protested in Istanbul against the detention of their colleagues, according to AFP. Numerous journalists protested also in Ankara holding banners that read “Who is next?” and “No to journalists in prison,” AFP reported.