Turkish police clash with protestors near Taksim square in Istanbul on May 31, 2022, during the ninth anniversary of the Gezi park and Taksim square demonstrations. At least six journalists covering the gathering were detained by police. (Bulent Kilic/AFP)

Istanbul police beat, tear gas, detain journalists while breaking up public protest

Istanbul, June 2, 2022 – Turkish authorities should take concrete steps to prevent police violence toward members of the press in the country after several journalists were beaten and detained while covering a recent protest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Tuesday evening, at least six journalists were detained by Istanbul police while covering a public gathering commemorating the 2013 Gezi Park protests near Taksim Square in the Beyoğlu district, according to multiple news reports, tweets from news outlets, and journalists at the scene. The police detained the journalists and others in attendance while attempting to break up the gathering.

The six were released from police custody on Wednesday morning, according to those sources. Those journalists, along with at least five others covering the gathering, were also pushed, beaten, or teargassed by police at the event.

“Police violence toward field reporters in Turkey is unacceptably routine. It is way past time to take concrete steps to end it,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Turkey’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, can easily stop this abnormally hostile behavior toward members of the press and should do it immediately, instead of turning a blind eye to lawlessness.”

CPJ emailed the Istanbul Police and Interior Ministry of Turkey for comment but did not receive a reply.

Meltem Akyol, a reporter for the leftist daily Evrensel, told CPJ via messaging app that she and the five other journalists taken into custody were manhandled by officers and handcuffed from behind, adding that the six plan to file a joint criminal complaint on Friday. Akyol tweeted that while she was detained, a police officer told her, “You are not my journalist.”

The five other journalists who were detained were:

  • Gökay Başcan, a reporter for the leftist daily BirGün, who tweeted and told CPJ via messaging app that officers tightly restrained his hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs for two hours in a police van. In the following tweet, Başcan shared photographs of his injured wrists.
  • Ozan Demiriz, a reporter for the pro-opposition Halk TV, who tweeted and told CPJ via messaging app that officers hit and kicked him while he was detained, resulting in fingernail marks on his arm and handcuff marks on his wrists. Demiriz also said that when he identified himself as a journalist, an officer replied, “You are not our journalist.”
  • Dilan Polat, Sevda Doğan, and Derin Aydoğdu from independent Flash TV, according to independent news website Bianet. CPJ could not find contact information for the Flash TV journalists, calls to the outlet were unanswered, and CPJ was unable to confirm what role the three have at the outlet.

In addition, the following attacks on journalists covering the Tuesday gathering were reported:

  • Police officers hit Erdinç Yılmaz, a reporter for Halk TV, in the head with a shield while he was on the air covering the gathering, according to a video by the outlet. CPJ could not find contact information for Yılmaz, and calls to Halk TV were unanswered.
  • Reporter Engin Açar and camera operator Umutcan Yitük for the independent channel TV TELE1 went to a hospital after officers beat and used tear gas on Açar and kicked and threw Yitük to the ground, as the outlet reported and Açar tweeted. Yitük told CPJ via messaging app that he and Açar were injured but not seriously wounded, and they filed a criminal complaint.
  • Police officers used tear gas on freelance journalist Hayri Tunç and AFP photojournalist Bülent Kılıç at close range, according to Tunç, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app and Bianet. Istanbul police also assaulted and detained Kılıç in June 2021, as CPJ documented. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Kılıç.

Police violence toward journalists in Istanbul is frequent, according to CPJ documentation. In June 2021, a mob attacked Turkish journalists in Istanbul, and police officers beat at least two reporters. Istanbul police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a group of journalists in July 2021, and a similar incident occurred in February of that year.