Several journalists jailed in new Turkish crackdown

January 22, 2013, Istanbul, Turkey–Turkish authorities should halt their practice of jailing journalists on vague anti-terror charges and allow the local press to report freely without fear of imprisonment or harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police in Istanbul jailed at least 11 journalists on charges of belonging to a banned terrorist group, according to news reports. The arrests started on Thursday and continued into the weekend. All of the journalists denied the accusations, news reports said. An Istanbul court released five of the journalists today, but ordered the imprisonment of the remaining reporters, according to local press reports. The court did not specify the length of the imprisonment and did not name a date for a trial.

Bloomberg News reported that the arrests were part of a nationwide crackdown on Friday by Turkish authorities against alleged members and supporters of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a local armed group considered terrorist by Turkish, European, and U.S. governments. Dozens of journalists, human rights lawyers, and musicians have been targeted amid the crackdown, local press freedom groups reported.

The jailed reporters include Sami Menteş, reporter for the daily Yurt; Gamze Keşkek and Veysel Şahin, of Tavır (Attitude) magazine; Yeliz Kılıç and Doğan Karataşın, of Yürüyüş magazine; and Fatih Özgür Aydın, of Artı İvme (Positive Acceleration), according to news reports and the journalists’ lawyers. Five Yürüyüş journalists–Halit Güdenoğlu, Ali Ekber Kalender, Utku Aykar, Necla Can and Tuncer Gümüş–were freed, but ordered to report to police weekly and to each pay bail of 10,000 Turkish liras (US$5,600). The court, who did not specify the reasons for the journalists’ release, also forbade the journalists from traveling abroad.

Süleyman Gökten, lawyer for the Yürüyüş journalists, told CPJ that his clients were badly beaten by the police while in custody. Menteş was not mistreated during detention, but police denied him access to asthma inhaler for 24 hours, his lawyer, Serkan Günel, told CPJ.

Keşkek, Şahin, and Aydın, were also subjected to beatings by the police, their lawyer, Evrim Deniz Karataş, told CPJ. Both Gökten and Karataş also said their clients were denied water and sugar under detainment as they practiced a hunger strike in protest.

Gökten and Karataş told CPJ that the evidence presented in court against the journalists included recorded phone conversations, which were branded secret and not disclosed to the lawyers; photographs from the 2011 and 2012 protest rallies; and press clips.

“This latest round of arrests is a serious setback for press freedom in Turkey, which holds the dubious distinction of being the world’s leading jailer of journalists,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney from New York. “Turkey should be emptying its jails of journalists, not filling them back up by using sweeping anti-terrorism laws.”

In an unrelated development on Monday, police in Adana detained Duygu Kıskanç, a reporter for the daily Birgün, while she was reporting on a protest rally against the deployment of Patriot missiles at the U.S. Incirlik air base located near Adana. She was released today, Birgün reported.

Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ research. At least 49 journalists were behind bars when CPJ conducted its worldwide prison census on December 1, 2012.

  • For more data and analysis on Turkey, visit CPJ’s Turkey page here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Ali Ekber Kalender’s name.