20 June 2016 - The arrest of two journalists in Turkey who had been participating in a solidarity action with the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem which reports on Kurdish issues in Turkey is yet another illustration of the alacrity with which the Turkish authorities are cracking down on freedom of expression in the country, PEN International said today. The organisation called for the immediate and unconditional release of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative and Bianet rapporteur, Erol Önderoğlu and journalist author Ahmet Nesin, who were detained along with Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) President Şebnem Korur Fincancı.
‘These brave souls knew they were putting their freedom in jeopardy when they agreed to participate in the Editors-in-Chief on Watch solidarity action, but felt this was the best way to challenge the ever-increasing authoritarianism of the Turkish authorities, particularly against those that challenge the world view of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,’ said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
‘Their arrest on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda” shows that the authorities will no longer allow peaceful civil society action in demand of greater press freedom especially around issues of what the Turkish military is doing to Kurdish civilians in the south-east in the context of the ongoing conflict with the PKK. It is time for the international community to take a strong stance and demand that these writers and human rights defenders are released forthwith.’
The three are among some 44 individuals who have joined the solidarity campaign since World Press Freedom Day on 3 May by acting as a Co-Editor in Chief for a day. At least 37 of these are reported to have been placed under investigation as a result of their participation.
Özgür Gündem has frequently been under pressure from the Turkish authorities; its publication was banned between 1994 and 2011, and many of its reporters have been arrested over the years on charges of support for the PKK. Others were held for years as part of an investigation into the Koma Civakên Kurdistan (Group of Communities in Kurdistan) (KCK) an alleged umbrella organisation for groups with links to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). According to Bianet, some 80 cases are currently pending against Özgür Gündem.
Solidarity actions of this nature have a long history in Turkey stemming back to 1995 when prominent writer Yasar Kemal was called to the State Security Court (DGM) to make a statement about an article published in the German weekly Der Spiegel. Protests against his prosecution culminated in 1080 academics who published a book entitled ‘Freedom of Thought’ which resulted in their own prosecution. PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee collected signatures of support to these persecuted academics and after the prosecutor refused to open a similar case against the PEN signatories, the Committee organised a visit of 19 writers from 12 countries to Istanbul.