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Journalists detained in wake of Turkey referendum

Supporters of the 'No' campaign in Turkey's referendum protest in Istanbul on April 17. At least three journalists covering opposition to the vote have been detained. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

New York, April 21, 2017--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Turkish authorities to stop jailing journalists and suppressing dissent in the wake of a referendum to change Turkey's system of governance from parliamentary to presidential. In the past week, police arrested at least three journalists and raided the newsroom of leftist website Sendika for reporting on protests over alleged irregularities in the referendum.

"The crackdown on press freedom in Turkey has devastated the country's once-vibrant media landscape," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "If Turkish authorities want citizens to accept the referendum results they must allow critical voices to speak freely, without fear of retaliation. We call on officials in Ankara to turn a new leaf in media policies and embrace an independent press."

Police yesterday raided the newsroom of Sendika and arrested its news editor, Ali Ergun Demirhan, the website reported. Demirhan tweeted details of the raid and his arrest. A translation of his post read, "Our office was raided at 5:50 [a.m]. I am being detained on the accusation of 'making the yes [referendum vote] seem illegitimate.'" Police arrested Demirhan for inciting people to hatred, being hostile to a public officer, and insult for allegedly trying to present the referendum result as illegitimate, Sendika reported. The report added that police confiscated a computer hard drive and cell phone.

Istanbul police also arrested Murat Bay, a reporter for Sendika, on his way back from covering protests on April 17, according to the news website Evrensel. Bay was detained in relation to reports on the protests and for allegedly providing details of rallies in advance.

Also on April 17, police in the western city of Izmir detained Kazım Kızıl, a photojournalist for the website Kamera Sokak, who was covering a protest against alleged irregularities in the constitutional referendum, according to Demokrat Haber and Ben Gazeteciyim, a volunteer association of Turkish journalists formed to show solidarity with their threatened colleagues.

The raid and arrests are a continuation of Turkey's crackdown on independent reporting. Separately this week, Istanbul's Chief Prosecutor's Office charged six journalists under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prohibits insults to Turkish identity, over their reporting of Turkish military actions in predominantly ethnic-Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey, according to Evrensel. The journalists are Selman Keleş, Özgür Paksoy, Kenan Kırkaya, and Aziz Oruç, from the shuttered pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency ( DİHA); Ersin Çaksu, editor of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgürlükçü Demokrasi; and İhsak Yasul, news editor of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi.

Turkey is a leading jailer of journalists, according to CPJ research. For over a year, CPJ has documented press freedom violations there in its daily Turkey Crackdown Chronicle.

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