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Turkey remains silent over three weeks after Palestinian journalist goes missing

The fate of a Palestinian journalist remains unknown more than three weeks after the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) raised his case with Turkish authorities.

Ahmad Al-Astal, a Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip, reportedly went missing in Turkey on 20 September 2020. The PJS called on the Turkish authorities to reveal his whereabouts after the journalist’s brother raised fears that he “may have been kidnapped”.

Over three weeks has passed since Al-Astal disappeared and there has still been no official comment from the Turkish authorities. The PJS have said that they are now monitoring the situation with deep concern, and demanded that authorities in Turkey “intensify their efforts to reveal his fate and the reason for his disappearance.” In an official statement, the PJS said:

“The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate expresses its grave concern over the disappearance, and calls on the International Federation of Journalists and all human rights organizations to intervene in order to reveal his fate,”

Al-Astal, 45 and holder of a temporary Jordanian passport, is a veteran journalist who worked for several years in the United Arab Emirates. Al-Astal continued his work as a journalist after moving to Turkey over eight years ago.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has overseen a brutal crackdown on press freedom in the country since a failed coup in July 2016. The country remains the biggest jailer of professional journalists, and media outlets and their employers are consistently targets of state harassment. Currently, Turkey ranks 154 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

A September 2020 report by the Turkey Tribunal, in collaboration with the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR), highlights how the Turkish state presides over enforced disappearances such as is suspected of Ahmad Al-Astal. The report states:

“It is impossible to provide exact numbers on the individuals who have been abducted by the Turkish State…[because] Turkey consistently denies any state implication. [However,] an extensive examination of the suspicious disappearances in Turkey has allowed us to distinguish 25 cases in which it is beyond any reasonable doubt that an abduction organised by the Turkish State has taken place.”

Al-Astal’s brother, Hussam, also claims that unidentified men broke into the journalist’s home the week before his disappearance; stealing two computers and personal documents. Al-Astal and his family were not home at the time of the break in.

The continued silence of the Turkish authorities demonstrates their continued disregard for human rights, just weeks after the United Nations General Assembly met to adopt the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The International Observatory of Human Rights reported at the time that:

“Turkey has for years said it will implement recommendations made by the UPR yet the situation for lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders are worsening in the country. In fact, in the period under review, the government has weaponised the legal system and terror legislation to restrict free expression.”

While Turkey state that it supported, or had already implemented 216 recommendations, human rights organisations and UN member states criticised the fact that key recommendations on arbitrary detention, freedom of the press and the judiciary, torture and reforming counter-terrorism legislation were all rejected.

Watch IOHR’s information meeting on press freedom and the UPR process in Turkey:

 

Read Turkey Tribunal and IOHR’s report on abductions in Turkey here:

 

 

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