Istanbul, October 10, 2019 –Turkish authorities must stop censoring news reports on the country’s military incursion into Syria and detaining or harassing journalists who cover it, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul today published a statement banning critical news reports and comments on Turkey’s military assault on northern Syria. The statement says a person or persons who “target the social peace of the Republic of Turkey, domestic peace, unity and security” with “any kind of suggestive news, written or visual publication/broadcast” alongside “operational social media accounts” will be prosecuted according to the Turkish penal code and anti-terrorism law.
“Regional and global powers and their citizens all have a stake in what’s happening on the Syrian-Turkish border, and it’s vital that they receive unimpeded news and opinion. Turkish authorities must not get away with a monopoly this time,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Turkey’s ban on ‘suggestive’ news reports and detention of journalists are designed to intimidate the media into silence – a design it has carried out with impunity for far too long.”
Police took into custody Hakan Demir, online editor for the leftist daily BirGün, at his house in Istanbul late last night because of a tweet about Turkey’s Syria offensive from the newspaper’s account, BirGün reported. A court today released the journalist on probation and banned him from traveling abroad after Demir had spoken to his lawyer, according to the report.
Police also detained Fatih Gökhan Diler, responsible news editor of the news website Diken, at his newsroom in Istanbul today because of a Diken report that quoted a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Diken reported. A court also later released him on probation and banned him from foreign travel, according to the report. A ‘responsible news editor’ is a legally required position for every news outlet in Turkey, of which the bearer is legally responsible for all published content.
Neither journalist was formally charged, but their conditional release indicates that investigation is ongoing.
The Directorate General of Security said prosecution was underway of at least 78 people, Turkish news website Bianet reported. Bianet also cited other local news outlets as reporting that authorities had already arrested 21 people. CPJ could not immediately determine whether the two journalists were counted among the 78 whom officials said they were prosecuting.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long threatened the assault on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who until this week were backed by the U.S. Turkey claims the Kurdish militia that leads the alliance is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey. A U.S. decision this week to pull back from the border cleared the way for Turkish warplanes and artillery to pound the area yesterday, followed by ground forces crossing the border, according to news reports.
Turkey has been the world’s worst jailer of journalists for three consecutive years. Over that period, authorities have shut down or taken over scores of independent news outlets, according to CPJ research.