New York, June 3, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by today’s reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Parliament called CNN journalist Ivan Watson a “flunky” and said the foreign press was “literally executing their duties as agents” in connection with the coverage of protests in Istanbul. The move follows the brief detention and manhandling by police of Watson and multiple Turkish journalists on Saturday, according to news reports.
Erdoğan said Watson was “caught red-handed” and that “these people have nothing to do with a free, impartial press,” according to reports.
“Erdoğan’s comments would be funny for the paranoia they betray, if not for the fact that they put journalists at very real risk,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We urge the prime minister and all Turkish authorities to refrain from making such irresponsible statements, which embolden adversaries of the media and have a chilling effect on the press.”
Police on Saturday scuffled with several journalists covering the one-year anniversary of anti-government protests in Taksim Square, according to reports. Watson was kicked and he and his crew detained while broadcasting live from the scene, which can be seen in this video.
Among the Turkish journalists harassed that day were Erdal İmrek, editor for the Daily Evrensel, who was beaten by police in plain clothes and briefly detained, according to the Turkish Union of Journalists, which regularly documents attacks on the press. He was released after witnesses protested him being sprayed in the face with gas.
Ahmet Şık, a prominent Turkish investigative journalist and book author, was also beaten by the police, the journalist told CPJ. Several other journalists took to Twitter to report being harassed by the police while covering the events.
“We call on Turkish law enforcement to stop using violence against journalists covering public protests and allow them to cover protests without obstruction or harassment,” CPJ’s Ognianova said.