CPJ asks German Chancellor Merkel to raise press freedom on Turkey visit

January 30, 2017 1:31 PM ET

January 30, 2017

Her Excellency Dr. Angela Merkel
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Willy-Brandt-Straße 1,
10557 Berlin, Germany

Via facsimile: +49.30.184.002605

Dear Chancellor Merkel,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, write to request that you use your upcoming visit to Turkey to ask Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to free the dozens of journalists imprisoned in the country and to urge him to allow the more than 100 media outlets closed since failed July 2016 military coup to reopen and to operate without harassment.

The current crackdown on the rights to free expression and to receive and impart information freely is unprecedented in its depth and scope in the decades that CPJ has tracked press freedom in Turkey. If Turkey's trajectory in this regard is not soon reversed, Turkey will be left with a monolithic media landscape, one in which the only voices heard are those of the government and its supporters. CPJ believes this would ultimately be to the detriment of the country's stability and reliability as an international partner.

In the past week alone, Turkey's government closed two channels by decree; a court jailed a wire reporter pending trial on terrorism charges; another journalist was sentenced to six years in jail for books she authored; a third journalist was detained while covering a trial; and the bilingual German-Turkish news website Özgürüz ("We Are Free")--which is edited by former Cumhuriyet editor Can Dündar from his exile in Germany--was blocked in Turkey, 12 hours before it published its first article.

While Dündar escaped to Germany, many others cannot. On December 1, 2016, when CPJ last conducted its census of journalists imprisoned around the world, Turkey kept 81 journalists behind bars for their work, more than any other country in the world in 2016 or in any year since CPJ began keeping records in 1991. Many others are under travel ban. Can Dündar's wife, Dilek Dündar, is under a travel ban, though she is not a journalist and is not a suspect in any crime, according to her husband.

In addition to the 81 confirmed cases, nearly 70 other journalists were imprisoned in Turkey on December 1, 2016, but CPJ was unable to establish that each was jailed for his or her work, often because lawyers and family members were too afraid to speak or to share even public documents. The crackdown has also affected those who campaign for press freedom: Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of Reporters sans frontières, is still on trial on terrorism charges for participating in a campaign to show solidarity with a newspaper the government ultimately closed. Kadri Gürsel, chair of the Turkey National Committee of the International Press Institute, has been imprisoned since October 2016.

The government's determination to use the failed military coup as justification for purging critics was clear from the start. Within the first week after mutinous soldiers attempted to overthrow the government, Turkish authorities used emergency powers to detain at least 48 journalists and shutter three news agencies, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines, and 29 publishing houses and distribution companies, CPJ research shows. Emergency powers allow any cabinet member to order any media organization closed by decree if he or she deems it "a threat to national security." The government set up a mechanism for appealing these decisions only last week.

While we recognize that any country has the right and responsibility to safeguard its citizens and institutions from violent attack, Turkey's continuing crackdown on individual journalists and the media goes well beyond the requirements of the safety and security of Turkish citizens or the state. The extension of the state of emergency, now more than six months old, enables and perpetuates the violations of Turks' rights to free expression and to the ability to impart and receive information freely.

Germany has been a strong supporter of press freedom domestically and internationally, with a record of criticizing attacks on the news media around the world, including in Turkey. We call on you to use the opportunity of your first visit to Turkey since the July's attempted putsch to repeat these concerns, to speak on behalf of the journalists jailed for their work, the many others on travel ban, and those whose employers were summarily shut down be emergency decree. CPJ believes that open debate--even and especially about such thorny issues as the status of ethnic Kurds in Turkey or the country's involvement in the Syrian conflict--can produce better policy and more stable international partners.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
CPJ Executive Director

CC:
Turkish Ambassador to Germany Ali Kemal Aydın
Director General for Enlargement at the European Commission Christian Danielsson
German Ambassador to Turkey Martin Erdmann
European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn
European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis
Chargé d'Affaires ad interim at U.S. Embassy in Germany Kent Logsdon
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks
German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig

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