New York, November 4, 2021 — Turkish authorities should immediately release Syrian journalist Majed Shamaa, end deportation proceedings against him, and allow him to do his job freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At 1:30 a.m. on October 30, police arrested Shamaa, a reporter for the Dubai-based broadcaster Orient TV, at his home in downtown Istanbul, according to news reports, a statement by his lawyer, Muhammad Ali Artvi, and a statement by the Syrian Media Council, a coalition of Syrian press freedom organizations and journalists’ unions.
The journalist is facing deportation to Syria for allegedly inciting hatred and insulting the Turkish people in a satirical video he produced as part of a news program, according to those sources.
Today, Orient TV and the Turkish free speech group Susma Platformu reported that the journalist had been transferred to a deportation center in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.
“By arresting journalist Majed Shamaa and threatening him with deportation, Turkish authorities are not only showing a lack of sense of humor, but also an utter disregard for press freedom and human rights,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Turkish authorities must immediately release Shamaa, stop his deportation, and allow Syrian journalists in Turkey to do their jobs freely and without fear of reprisal.”
Shamaa reports for Orient TV on issues affecting Syrian refugees in Turkey, and has recently covered topics including difficulties refugees encounter in renting homes and accessing hospitals, as well as other and human interest stories about refugees.
In late October, he produced an episode of the program Street Poll in which he interviewed Syrians in Istanbul’s Fatih district about the so-called banana wars, a dispute over standards of living in the city sparked by a viral video of a Turkish man claiming that he could not afford bananas but saw Syrians buying many of them, according to news reports.
Since that clip went viral, Syrians living in Turkey have shared videos and pictures on social media of themselves eating bananas, prompting Turkish authorities to arrest several Syrians for alleged provocation and incitement to hatred, according to news reports, which said that those arrested could face deportation.
In his Street Poll episode, in addition to interviewing locals, Shamaa also aired a satirical sketch of himself buying bananas in a shop, hiding them under his shirt, and eating them in secret. The video has since been removed from YouTube.
In his November 3 statement, Shamaa’s lawyer said that the Public Prosecution Office had interrogated Shamaa twice concerning allegations of incitement to hatred and insulting the Turkish people based on that video.
When the journalist and his lawyer “explained to the public prosecutor that Shamaa is a journalist and deportation would endanger his life,” the prosecutor ordered him to be released, Artvi wrote.
But by that time, the Immigration Department already initiated deportation proceedings against Shamaa, and ordered him to remain in detention while that decision is pending, according to his lawyer’s statement.
The statement noted that Shamaa had been “highly critical of the [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Asad regime, would receive a sentence no less than a death penalty” if sent back to Syria.
Artvi wrote that Shamaa had not intended to incite hatred or insult the Turkish people, and that the video was done in accordance with his work as a journalist. The statement said that Shamaa had filed an appeal against potential deportation.
In a letter Shamaa wrote to Orient TV, published today, the journalist said the staff at the Gaziantep deportation center had forced him to sign and fingerprint deportation papers, even though they knew that he did not want to be deported. He wrote that his criticism of the Syrian government and armed factions, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, would put him in danger if he returned to Syria.
CPJ emailed and sent requests for comment via messaging app to the Istanbul Immigration Department and Omer Tanriverdi, head of public diplomacy at the Turkish presidency’s Directorate of Communications, but did not receive any replies.