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Once again, Kurdish media are targeted by the Turkish State… And dozens of journalists go join their colleagues in prison…
On October 25 2022, in a series of police raids conducted simultaneously in the early mornin ghours, in six. Provinces of Turkey, the Turkish State arrested 10 journalists of the Mezopotamia Agency (MA) and of Jin News. The security forces confiscated several books, magazines, computers and photographic cameras during the raids. The motive for these detentions was not revealed officially.
MA and Jin News agencies are frequently targeted by investigations linked to accusations of “terrorism” on the Kurdish question. Turkish authorities accuse them of publishing information benefiting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is considered a “crime” in the eyes of the regime, one calling for several yeras in prison, based on the accumulated Turkish antiterrorist laws. Diren Yurtsever, editor in chief at MA, was arrested during a raid in Istanbul. Reporters Zemo Ağgöz and Berivan Altan were arrested in Ankara, Selma Güzelyüz in Diyarbakır, Hakan Yalçın in Van and Emrullah Acar and Ceylan Şahinli in Urfa; Jin News reporters Hasibe Eren and Derya Ren were arrested in Diyarbakır and Öznur Değer in Mardin.
There is nothing new in the repression and massive arrests of Kurdish journalists. That opposition journalists, particularly Kurdish ones, are targeted is a common and generalized practice in Turkey, and keeping lists up to date has become difficult. Even for platforms in civil society organizations that follow these operations, custodies, arrests, liberations, sentencing… Some have given up, one after the other and so have we… As we said in a recent roundup article in 2022: “For our part, since the failed coup d’Etat in 2016, the prison chronicle has become omnipresent on a background of daily and identical repression. Writing the same article simply changing the names is not strongly motivating. And given their daily occurrence, we now carry out their denunciation on social networks.”
On the occasion of these latest arrests, we come back to the offensive as a reminder of this situation which deeply harms freedom of the press, as does a new law concerning the press, yet another, this one extremely coercive.
Turkey is one of those countries that exerts constant and extreme repression against the press. Turkish authorities and courts equate critical journalism with “criminal terrorist activity”. This situation has also been widely denounced by international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the EU, Amnesty International. Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index and about 60 journalists to our knowledge are “currently” imprisoned in Turkey. The number will likely increase further with today’s raids.
But these figures fluctuate according to the sources. According to the Union of Journalists of Turkey (TGS), there are 38 journalists in Turkish prisons. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) speaks of 18, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) of 9, because the latter only consider as “journalists” those who have a press card issued by the State; as a consequence, few Kurdish journalists and opponents manage to obtain this card. It is common that even journalists who have been in this profession for a long time are denied the renewal of their press card.
Moreover, in mid-September 2002, the Turkish Ministry of Justice rejected a request for information on the number of imprisoned journalists, saying that “this information was not in the interest of the public”. A citizen had submitted this request to the Communication Center of the Presidency (CİMER) on September 7. In its response, the Directorate General of Prisons and Detention Houses of the Ministry of Justice stated: “Arrangements made by institutions and organizations which do not concern the public and which relate only to their own personnel and internal practices do not fall within the scope of the right to obtain information.” This ministerial response is signed by Deputy Minister Akın Gürlek, a former judge who personally sentenced several journalists and politicians.
In addition, the government has recently created a new “legal tool for pressure” on the media and for censorship. The new “disinformation and false information” bill provides for a prison sentence of up to three years for “anyone who shows intent of endangering the security of the country or public order”. Such a bill, which purposefully keeps the definition of “disinformation” and “intent” vague, opens a door to arbitrary practices and exposes journalists, as well as millions of Internet users in Turkey, to the risk of criminal prosecution for sharing information of which the government does not approve.
Despite all the objections from journalists, civil society and the opposition, this bill proposed by Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), called by the aficionados of the regime “law on disinformation”, and qualified by the opposing public opinion and the professional organizations of journalists of “law on censorship”, was adopted by the Parliament at the beginning of October 2022. This law stipulates that “those who publicly disseminate information that is not really related to the security of the country, internally or externally, to public order or to public health, with the aim of arousing concern, fear or panic among the population, so as to destroy internal peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for 1 to 3 years.” Reporting of offensive content related to the activities and personnel of the “National Intelligence Agency” is included in the scope of the catalogue of such “crimes”.
It is obvious that this law is now an important tool to muzzle journalists and opposition groups and also to generalize self-censorship. As for the journalists, several of them have declared in various interviews, chronicles or press conferences, to be determined to continue to exercise their profession, and to inform, “by all means available, if necessary by smoke signals !”
Journalist reporter Rüştü Demirkaya rightly said in his most recent email to Kedistan : “In an environment where fundamental rights and freedoms are violated, the government and its partners continue to target journalists, pave the way for physical attacks and reward those who attack journalists with impunity. Keeping journalists in prison on arbitrary charges and for long periods of time continues to be an insult to democracy.”
Kedistan’s team joins the voices demanding “an end to the persecution of journalists in Turkey, the immediate release of journalists currently detained, the repeal of the country’s anti-terrorist legislation, the establishment of effective guarantees for freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary, an end to the systematic violation of democratic standards and the establishment of freedom of the press and the rule of law”.
We are neither duped nor naive and know that the current regime in Turkey has no interest in honoring these claims… However, Turkey is regularly warned, and has been condemned many times for its illegal practices, as proven by the countless mountains of cases concerning the persecution of journalists, filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)…
International organizations and institutions must call on Turkey to act in accordance with the international conventions it has signed.
Solidarity with the arrested journalists!
To support even some of them, you can send cards and letters. For example Ziya Ataman, whose articles and address you will find here, or Nedim Türfent…
Journalism is not a crime
And in order to pursue that thought further, it helps to look at the wider picture.
What can be called information, and the media serving as its vectors, occupies a much larger field than it did a few years ago, and we have seen a considerable acceleration in the immediacy of its transmission. Digital technologies have contributed to globalization and a considerable acceleration, with also the massive presence of social networks as a vector. Kedistan exists within this framework.
Talking about the role of digital vectors of information, whether in the Iranian revolts, the war in Ukraine, to name just these two cases, would be another article that would take us far afield. We simply wish to raise this paradox between the omnipresence of information and the censorship of the States attempting to throttle it on a permanent basis. This paradox remains an essential political task..
And, in this, journalism must fully play its role.
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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