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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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