CPJ writes to Turkish foreign minister about barring of foreign journalists

May 3, 2016 11:40 AM ET

May 3, 2016

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
Foreign Minister
Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Dr. Sadık Ahmet Cad. No:8 Balgat / ANKARA
TURKEY 06100

Via Turkish Embassy in the United States, at facsimile: +1 202 612 67 44
Via Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations, at facsimile: +1 212 949 00 86 and + 1 212 949 42 67

Dear Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, international press-freedom advocacy group, have been troubled by reports that foreign journalists have been blocked from entering the country. We are writing to call on you to clarify your government's policy on the foreign press and to affirm that the international press is welcome in Turkey.

According to CPJ research, in the week of April 18 alone, Turkish authorities barred four foreign journalists from entering the country, in separate incidents. These are Volker Schwenck, a journalist with the German public broadcaster ARD; Tural Kerimov, Turkey bureau chief of the Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik; Giorgos Moutafis, a photojournalist on assignment for the German daily Bild; and David Lepeska, a freelance correspondent who had been based in Turkey and who had written for Al Jazeera, London's Guardian newspaper, and The New York Times.

On April 18, officials at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport denied entry to Schwenck, who was traveling to Turkey's border with Syria to interview refugees. He returned to Cairo, where he heads the ARD bureau. The journalist posted on Twitter a partial picture of the document airport security officials gave him. The document, written in Turkish and English, is titled "Inadmissible Passenger Notification Report" and cites Turkey's Law 6458, Article 9, which allows officials to bar entry to foreigners "whose entry into Turkey is objectionable for public order, public security or public health reasons."

Schwenck told CPJ in an email that the officer who denied him entry told him he could not enter Turkey because "there was a cross on his name," without elaborating. He said he had regularly traveled to Turkey to report from the country's Syrian border without a problem. "It looks as if Turkey decided to change the rules of the game suddenly without giving a warning signal," Schwenck wrote in his email to CPJ. "I don't know why."

On April 20, Kerimov was held at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport before being denied entry without an immediate explanation, even though he held a valid press card and residency permit, according to press reports. The Russian government-funded broadcaster RT reported that Kerimov was eventually handed a written notice that he was unwelcome in Turkey and was barred from entering. Officials ordered him to leave on the next flight to Moscow. Kerimov's entry ban comes on the heels of Turkey's censorship of the Sputnik website by virtue of an "administrative measure," according to reports.

On April 24, airport security officials denied entry to Moutafis, a Greek photographer, who was traveling to Libya, via Turkey, on assignment with Bild. The photojournalist had recently published images of the Syrian refugee crisis in various European publications, Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported. He was held at the airport and put on a flight to Athens the next day, according to press reports. In remarks published by Bild, Moutafis said that passport-control officials told him his name "was on a list and [he] was not allowed to enter," without elaborating.

On April 25, Istanbul-based American freelance journalist Lepeska wrote on social media websites that he had been denied entry to Turkey and put on a flight to Chicago. "Was just hurried onto a flight to Chicago after being denied entry at Istanbul Ataturk," Lepeska wrote. "This is not the last I will see of you, Turkey. My love for you is deep, thanks mainly to the steady stream of lovely lively people I met here. Be well, Istanbul."

Lepeska told CPJ in an email that the officers who refused him entry gave him no explanation. He said he had since tried to communicate with the Turkish government, the Turkish Embassy in Washington, as well as the Turkish Consulate in Chicago to receive more information, but without success.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, we recognize that Turkey, like any sovereign nation, has the right and the responsibility to control its borders and to ensure the security of the country. However, your government's actions in barring entry to international journalists violate the spirit of article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which affirms "the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas...regardless of frontiers."

Given Turkey's longstanding status as a hub for the global news media, its legal and constitutional commitments to freedom of the press, its membership in the Council of Europe, and its status as a candidate country for membership European Union, we urge you to affirm that the foreign press will continue to be welcome in Turkey without undue or burdensome bureaucratic barriers. We are concerned that the barring of four journalists in the space of a week has set a disturbing precedent.

We are particularly disturbed by Moutafis' report that his name was on a list of persons banned from entering the country. As EU Parliament President Martin Schultz said on April 25, "Lists of names of journalists have no place in democracies."

We call on you to ensure that the bans against Volker Schwenck, Tural Kerimov, Giorgos Moutafis, and David Lepeska are dropped without delay, and that they can freely enter Turkey and do their job. We also call for the reversal of the censorship of the website of the Russian state news agency Sputnik, and all news websites, and for the stopping of all government attempts to control the information accessible to Turkish audiences.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
CPJ Executive Director

CC:
Turkish Ambassador to the United States Serdar Kılıç
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini
EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn
President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz
European Parliament Turkey Rapporteur Kati Piri
President of the European Council Donald Tusk
EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis
Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic

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