February 9, 2015
H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu
Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey
Vekaletler Caddesi Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
P.K. 06573; Kızılay, Ankara
Via Prime Ministry’s Press Office: [email protected]
Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express alarm at a fresh wave of anti-press actions in Turkey and to ask that you use the power of your office to reverse the measures.
In October, when we met in Ankara, we welcomed your pledge that your office would provide protection to journalists threatened in retaliation for their work. In meetings with other government officials, we were assured that Turkey is committed to continuing its judicial reform to improve conditions for a free press and free expression.
However, we also came away from some meetings with a sense of official hostility toward the media, and we have seen that hostility play out in a series of attacks on press freedom in recent months. These include the harassment and prosecution of journalists because of their activities on social media; the blocking of reporters’ social media posts; a ban on coverage of a sensitive story; and detentions, police raids, and criminal investigations of journalists. These acts have a chilling effect on news coverage in Turkey.
The details of significant cases include:
–On February 1, a prosecutor in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır indicted Dutch freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink for “making propaganda” for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) via social media. If sentenced, Geerdink faces up to five years in prison.
Geerdink has worked as a journalist in Turkey since 2006, focusing on Kurdish issues, politics, and human rights and writing for a variety of international publications as well as the Turkish news website Diken, where she has a regular column. It was her Diken column as well as social media posts that, as Diyarbakır prosecutor Hakan Özdemir alleged, praised the PKK and KCK while denigrating the Republic of Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The prosecutor also stated in the indictment that Geerdink was trying to portray Turkey as a country that helps the militant group Islamic State. Geerdink denied all the accusations, saying she only acted as a journalist who had been posting her stories and opinion pieces on social media. A court hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 8.
Prior to being indicted, Geerdink was detained and interrogated for three hours, and her home in Diyarbakır was searched by terrorism police on January 6.
–In mid-January, police raided the printing house that produces the daily Cumhuriyet and the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation against the paper and two of its columnists, Hikmet Çetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, according to news reports. The columnists had republished the cover of the first edition of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo since the deadly attack on the satirical publication on January 7.
Çetinkaya said he and Karan had received death threats on social media.
Instead of speaking out against those threats, top Turkish leaders called Cumhuriyet‘s decision to republish Charlie Hebdo content a provocation. Most notably, you said on January 15, that the paper was provoking people to launch an attack on it.
–Also in mid-January, a Turkish court imposed a ban on coverage of allegations that gendarmerie in the southern Adana and Hatay provinces in January 2014 had intercepted trucks, allegedly belonging to the Turkish intelligence agency, on suspicion of smuggling arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. According to the state media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, the gag order was necessary because of an ongoing investigation into the case.
Turkish authorities have repeatedly gagged coverage of sensitive issues, depriving the public of its right to be informed, CPJ research shows.
–On January 15, an Istanbul court ordered Twitter to block tweets that linked to a July article in the online newspaper Radikal that reported on the allegedly illegal wiretapping by police. Access to the Radikal article itself was also blocked in Turkey.
–At the end of December, Police raided the Istanbul home of Turkish TV journalist Sedef Kabaş, detained her briefly, and confiscated her laptop and phone, she told the local press. Now, similar to Dutch freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink, Kabas faces up to five years in jail in connection with her social media posts. She is being prosecuted for a tweet in which she named a prosecutor who had dropped corruption proceedings against high-level Turkish officials, the Turkish press reported. The charges against her include “targeting persons involved in the fight against terrorism,” news reports said.
–Also in December, police raided two media outlets perceived as affiliated with a movement led by U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. The editor-in-chief of Zaman newspaper, Ekrem Dumanlı, was detained in one of the raids and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, was arrested in the other. The two arrest warrants were part of a group of 31 issued by Turkish prosecutors that month on charges of “establishing a terrorist group,” committing forgery, and slander, press reports said, citing Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Hadi Salihoglu.
While these are serious accusations, authorities are yet to produce evidence that Dumanlı or Karaca have committed any crime. Meanwhile, Dumanlı is banned from traveling abroad and Karaca has been kept in pretrial detention since December 14. No court dates to hear the two men’s cases have been set.
These recent violations against press freedom and freedom of expression obscure the positive steps taken by your government, including the stark reduction of the number of journalists imprisoned in relation to their work in Turkey.
Mr. Prime Minister, Turkey’s leaders have said that they support a free press, at least in principle, but the same leaders–including yourself–have also publicly criticized journalists and disparaged their work. This official attitude facilitates the actions of police, prosecutors, courts, and regulators against the media, and contributes to an environment in which hostile elements of society may feel free to threaten or even physically attack journalists.
We ask that you use the authority of your high office to speak up in defense of press freedom and against attacks on journalists, creating a more tolerant atmosphere for the media.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey
Bekir Bozdağ, Turkey’s Justice Minister
Osman Sert, Prime Ministry Press Advisor
Lutfullah Göktas, Chief Media Advisor to the President of Turkey
Mustafa Varank, Chief Advisor to the President of Turkey
Serdar Kılıç, Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy Federica Mogherini
President of the European Council Donald Franciszek Tusk
EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis
European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Günther Hermann Oettinger
President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament Elmar Brok
Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Elena Valenciano
U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks