At least seven journalists have been arrested in Turkey in the last week, continuing the trend of the Erdoğan regime suppressing media freedom.
On August 19 Ziyan Karahan, the Kurdish-language editor of pro-kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, was arrested at her home in Diyarbakir. Authorities told Karahan announced that she is detained due to her “journalistic activities”.
The following day, Mezopotamya reported that an additional five journalists had been arrested while covering protests against political appointees in Mardin. The jailed reporters are Ahmet Kanbal and Mehmet Şah Oruç of Mezopotamya, Jinnews reporter Rojda Aydın and journalists Nurcan Yalçın and Halime Parlak. A number of citizens were also detained at the protest. The five reporters were arrested as police scattered the crowd using tear gas and water cannons, also injuring three parliamentary deputies of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party in the process.
Mezopotamya are reporting that journalist Yelda Özbek had also been taken into custody as a result of the Diyarbakır protests.
“The news that a further 7 journalists have been taken into custody under the Erdogan regime demonstrates the continued dire situation for press freedom in Turkey. No journalist should face losing their freedom simply for carrying out a vital democratic function.”
— Louise Pyne-Jones, Head of Research at the International Observatory of Human Rights
The police also arrested Ayşegül Tözeren, a writer for the left-leaning Evrensel, at her home in Istanbul on August 20. Tözeren was taken to the Istanbul Police Department following a trip to Haseki State Hospital according to reports from her employer. Police did not offer any explanation for Tözeren’s arrest and have prevented her lawyers from visiting her in custody under the pretence of a 24-hour restriction period.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the reporters remain in custody. On August 20, authorities in Mersin released Mezopotamya reporter Ergin Çağlar who had been taken into custody on August 16 for alleged membership in an illegal organisation claim he vehemently denies.
“The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shows no sign of easing its clampdown on Turkey’s media and the unjust imprisonment of reporters for doing their jobs”
— Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ Program Director
Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with the CPJ 2018 prison census stating that at least 68 journalists are currently imprisoned in direct relation to their work. The Stockholm Center for Freedom a non-governmental organization founded by a number of Turkish journalists living in exile announced that Turkey has jailed almost 200 journalists and media professionals. Most of the journalist imprisoned in Turkey are facing baseless anti-state or terrorism related charges. It has become a norm for journalists to spend more than a year in prison before even standing in a courtroom. Lengthy sentences are common, including in some cases life sentences without the chance of parole.
President Erdoğan’s assault on press freedom began prior to the 2016 failed coup attempt but has drastically intensified in the aftermath. The government has shut down more than 100 news outlets by decree.
Detained journalists and closed media outlets are denied any form of effective legal recourse, censorship of websites and online social media is reaching unprecedented levels and the authorities are now also trying to bring online video services into tow. This all led to the International Press Institute (IPI) concluding in a 2019 report that:
“rather than repealing the emergency decrees that the government had put in place to suppress media freedom, Turkey has been developing laws and other tools to further extend restrictions imposed on the media”.
The acquisition of Turkey’s biggest media group by a pro-government conglomerate has also further tightened Erdoğan’s grip on what little was left in the way of media pluralism in Turkey. The country now ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
The International Observatory of Human Rights calls for the immediate release of all journalists unfairly imprisoned in Turkey and has recently submitted a Universal Periodic Review to the United Nations Human Rights Council on freedom of expression in Turkey.
Turkey remains the worst jailer of journalists worldwide for the fourth year in a row.