Turkey: Journalist Arrests Raise Concern
About Media Freedom
Dorian Jones - Istanbul, VOA
Journalists rose their voice against latest arrests.
ISTANBUL, — Turkey has detained several
journalists as part of an anti-terror probe.
Turkish news channels broadcast pictures of
journalists being taken into police custody, after
their homes were raided early Tuesday. The
detentions are part of an anti-terror probe into
what prosecutors allege is the "press and propaganda
wing" of the banned Kurdish rebel group, the
Kurdistan Workers' Party. A pro-Kurdish newspaper
was also raided.
The Turkish representative for U.S.-based Human
Rights Watch, Emma Sinclair Webb, says the latest
detentions are part of a worrying trend.
"The arrests represent a further clampdown on
dissenting critical voices in Turkey," said Webb.
"This has become a pattern, of the last few months.
It has intensified since the general election. The
trouble with Turkey's terrorism laws is that [they
are] so widely drawn and vague that any of us can
find ourselves suspect in terrorism investigation."
But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
defends the ongoing probe, even making a thinly
veiled threat against its critics, saying they
should question their motives.
The probe, and another alleged conspiracy linked to
the military called Ergenekon, have resulted in
scores of journalists being jailed. The scale of the
detentions has prompted the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe to intervene.
OSCE representative for media freedom Dunja
Mijatović met earlier this month with government
"There are more people put in prison. Very long
detention period - more than 1,000 days, sentences
of 166 years in prison. So that in the end, we had
to intervene," said Mijatović. "Of course, this
issue of imprisonment,www.ekurd.net
it cannot be treated as a technical issue because we
are talking about people behind bars, about human
beings. My office clearly spelled out to the
government we do not [want] in anyway to interfere
[with] the legitimate right of any government to
fight terrorism. But this case of 66, at the moment,
people that are journalists that are in prison in
Turkey needs very urgent remedies."
Mijatović says she received commitments from the
government to reform, but was not given a timetable
for change. The OSCE concern follows that of the
European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join. The
EU annual report on Turkey, published in October,
criticized Ankara about freedom of the press.
But Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bagis
dismissed the criticisms.
"If you consider the report to be a photo of Turkey,
what I can say is the model of the camera that took
the picture of Turkey is an old model," said Bagis.
"I think it is time for Europe to change the lens,
and to focus better."
Earlier this month, Turkey signed a protocol with
Russia to combat what both countries claim is the
politicization of human rights by international
bodies such as the OSCE. The Turkish government
argues that rather than restricting media freedom,
it has allowed more critical reporting on the
military, once a taboo subject.
Political columnist Kadri Gurcel for the Turkish
daily Milliyet acknowledges such reforms, but argues
that old taboos have merely been replaced by new
"There are new [taboos] erected," said Gurcel.
"Reporting has become a quite difficult and
ambiguous affair in Turkey. Because reporting on
questions that the government does not wish anything
reported on, it has become very risky."
The government's ending of the once omnipotent
army's political power has seen Turkey being
presented by some as a role model for emerging
democracies of the Arab spring and the wider region.
But former Turkish ambassador and teacher of
international relations at Kultur University, Murat
Bilhan, says the journalist detentions and the
resulting intimidation in the wider society is a
worrying sign about what direction Turkey is
heading. He says the removal of democratic checks on
the government could have major regional
"Turkey is changing to a civilian dictatorship now,"
said Bilhan. "If this continues like that, our
allies and partners will feel [it] to their bones.
Maybe hostile Turkey, more 'Arabized' Turkey, Turkey
changing its identity."
The government dismisses such concerns, saying it is
defending democracy, rather than threatening it. But
with more journalists jailed nearly every month,
observers say that argument will prove increasingly
hard to sustain.
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