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Take action to protect journalists caught in Turkey’s crackdown

Wednesday 3 May 2017 - 1:00am

5World Press Freedom Day 2017

3 May 2017 - The space for freedom of expression is rapidly shrinking in Turkey. Following a contested constitutional referendum, which took place under a state of emergency allowing heavy restrictions on freedom of expression, the narrow win for President Erdogan’s “Yes” campaign grants wide-reaching, centralised new powers to the president including the right to rule by decree, appoint ministers and top judges at his discretion, and to abolish parliament.

The Turkish authorities’ campaign was marred by threats, arrests and prosecutions and these concerns were echoed by international observers at OSCE who presented in their post-referendum report, underlining an “unlevel playing field” in the lead up to the elections.

According to PEN International’s records, 173 media outlets have been shut down, whilst more than 150 journalists and media workers remain behind bars since the crackdown on free expression widened in July. In 31 October 2016, Turkish police arrested 14 board members of Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest and one of the few remaining opposition papers. On 4 November 2016, four staff members were released, while the remaining nine were formally charged. Less than a week later the paper’s chief executive, Akın Atalay, was arrested and further action in the investigation against the paper landed journalist Ahmet Şık and accountant Emre İper behind bars.

On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International calls on the Turkish authorities to urgently and unconditionally release Cumhuriyet staff being held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression

Take Action: Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media

Send appeals to the Turkish authorities:

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all tenCumhuriyet staff as they are being held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling for all detained writers and journalists to have access to lawyers and to be released if they are not to be charged with a recognisably criminal offence and tried promptly in accordance with international fair trial standards;
  • While recognising that the Turkish authorities have the right and responsibility to investigate those suspected of crimes in relation to the failed coup, calling on them not to use the state of emergency to crack down on peaceful dissent, civil society, media and education;

Send appeals to:

Minister of Justice
Bekir Bozdağ
Ministry of Justice
Milli Müdafa Caddesi, 06659 Kızılay-Ankara, Republic of Turkey
Tel: (+90 312) 417 77 70
Fax: (+90 312) 419 3370

Ministry of Interior Affairs
Süleyman Soylu
Minister of Interior Affairs
T.C. İçişleri Bakanlığı, Bakanlıklar / Ankara, Republic of Turkey
Tel: (+90 312) 422 40 00

Prime Minister
Binali Yıldırım
Çankaya Mah. Ziaur Rahman Cad. Çankaya / Ankara
Tel: (+90 312) 403 50 00
Fax: (+90 312) 422 10 00

Copies to:
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi
06560 Beştepe-Ankara
Tel : (+90 312) 525 55 55
Fax : (+90 312) 525 58 31
Twitter: @RT_Erdogan

Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Turkey in your country. A list of embassies can be found here.

Send a message of support:
Please consider sending letters or postcards in a show of support and solidarity to Cumhuriyet daily addressed to all or any of the detained journalists , who are being kept in Silivri F Type Prison and are not being allowed letters or postcards:

Prof. Nurettin Mazhar Öktel Sok. No: 2
34381 Şişli / İstanbul
Tel: (+90 212) 343 72 74
Fax: (+90 212) 343 72 64

Turkish police arrested 14 employees of Cumhuriyet newspaper, one of Turkey’s oldest papers, on 31 October 2016 and one of the few remaining opposition papers. On November 4, four were released for health reasons. The remaining nine were formally charged, before the paper’s chief executive, Akın Atalay, was arrested upon his return to Istanbul on November 12, and the paper’s reporter Ahmet Şık, accountant, Emre İper was detained and charged on 31 December and 6 April respectively bringing the total number of Cumhuriyet staff behind bars to twelve. They are: Murat Sabuncu (Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief); Güray Öz (Cumhuriyet board executive, ombudsman and columnist); Hakan KaraMusa KartBülent UtkuMustafa Kemal Güngör and Önder Çelik (all board members of the Cumhuriyet Foundation); Turhan Günay (Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper’s book supplement); Akın Atalay (Executive President of the Cumhuriyet Foundation) Ahmet Şık (investigative reporter) Emre İper (accountant) and columnist Kadri Gürsel, who is also a board member of the International Press Institute. According to media reports, prosecutors also issued detention warrants for the newspaper’s previous editor-in-chief Can Dündar, who is currently out of the country following an armed assault outside an Istanbul courthouse. The detained Cumhuriyet staff are currently being held in Silivri F Type Prison in İstanbul, where they are not allowed to receive books or send letters.

During their interrogation, the staff of Cumhuriyet Daily denied the charges and reported that they were shown the paper’s earlier headlines as evidence of the charges and that they were also questioned on statements and tweet they had never made or sent out. Hikmet Çetinkaya, one of those released on account of his poor health, noted that he was questioned about the following statement: ‘I have followed the Fetullahist organization for 40 years and it is certainly not a terrorist organization’ which he denies ever having said. According to the indictment, which was released on April 4, Cumhuriyet “tried to legitimize the acts of the PKK terrorist organization” also noting that some of the suspects “had contact with users” of the ByLock smartphone application, which came to prominence after it emerged that FETÖ members used it to communicate. Aydın Engin, a board member who was released for health reasons described the charges as ludicrous since they contact many people as journalists and have absolutely no way of making sure which of those contacts have a certain app on their phone. The indictment has been sent to the Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court.

The UN Special Rapperteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye recently met with the Cumhuriyet detainees in prison during his 14-18 November 2016 visit to Turkey and reported that ‘they have limited access to a lawyer, books, pen and paper, or other ways to access information or communicate with the outside world.’

Further details of the ten detained editorial staff follow:
Murat Sabuncu: Born in İstanbul in 1971, Sabuncu received a master’s degree in media studies from Istanbul Commerce University. A journalist for 25 years, Sabuncu started his career at Milliyet Daily, where he served as Economy Manager and columnist. He later transferred to Tempo magazine before moving on to become the editor in chief of esteemed publication, Fortune Turkey. Sabuncu started working at Cumhuriyet Daily as editorial coordinator on August 21 2014 and later appointed editor in chief of the opposition daily on September 1 2016. He is one of the founding members of P24, the Independent Journalists Platform.
Kadri Gürsel: Born in İstanbul in 1961, Kadri Gürsel started working as a journalist in 1986. Throughout his career he has worked in various positions in Cumhuriyet, Güneş and Sabah newspapers, as well as being a reporter for Agence France-Presse and serving as editor in chief of Nokta magazine. In 31 March 1995, whilst he was covering operations by the Turkish Military in Northern Iraq, he was abducted by PKK militants along with Reuters photo journalist Fatih Sarıbaş in Nusaybin and released in Şırnak 26 days later. He has since worked as managing editor of Artı Haber magazine and as foreign bureau chief at Milliyet Daily. He was removed from his duties at Milliyet following his critical tweets about the Suruç bombing, the first officially claimed ISIS bomb attack on Turkey. He has been working as a columnist for Cumhuriyet Daily since May 10 2016 and is a board member as well as the Turkish National Committee president at the International Press Institute (IPI).

Musa Kart: Born in Konya in 1954, Kart graduated from Ankara University Engineering and Architecture department. His first cartoon was published in 1974 and he started his career as a cartoonist at Cumhuriyet Daily in 1986. Moving on to drawing cartoons at Milliyet economy service, Kart later worked as a cartoonist at Güneş and Günaydın daily papers and Nokta magazine before returning to Cumhuriyet in 1993. He is the 2006 recipient of the Press Freedom Award presented by the Turkish Journalists Association.

Güray Öz: Born in Uşak in 1948, Öz acquired his bachelor’s degree from İstanbul University Law School and started working as a journalist in 1971. He was the editor of Cumhuriyet Hafta, a supplement of the paper published in Germany. His poems and essays have been published regularly in Ant ve Soyut magazine. Among his published books are Almanya’da Ayrımcılık, Federal Almanya’da Türklerin Kültür Sorunları, and a poetry collection Kurumuş Gül Ağacı-Şiirler.

Turhan Günay: Turhan Günay graduated from İstanbul Technical University Civil Engineering Faculty, where he also started working as a journalist for the school paper. He was a reporter for Günaydın group from 1968 to 1983 before acting as managing editor at Gırgır and Fırt, both political satire magazines. He left the Günaydın group in 1983 and transferred to İletişim group where he served in the editorial team of Yeni Gündem magazine. Since 1985, Günay has served as editor in chief of Cumhuriyet’s Sunday supplement Pazar Dergi, and later it’s book supplement Kitap Dergi. He serves as an executive board member in Cumhuriyet books since 2013.

Hakan Kara: Hakan Kara received his bachelor’s degree from Ege University Press Faculty and started his career as a journalist at Cumhuriyet’s İzmir Bureau in 1984. His wide coverage of environmental issues such as tortoises in Dalyan or the cyanide gold in Bergama earned him national recognition. He served as editor of the environmental page of Cumhuriyet in 1993 and later worked in various positions in the paper, including as news editor for many years. He has been a columnist and a board member for the Cumhuriyet Foundation since 2013.

Önder Çelik: Born in İzmir, Çelik received his bachelor’s degree from Marmara University Education Faculty. He started his journalistic career at Politika newspaper until it was shuttered. He later moved on to Cumhuriyet Daily in 1984 and has been working at the newspaper as part of management ever since, serving as manager of publishing and distribution, operations manager and press houses, production and technology development manager. Çelik is a board member in the Cumhuriyet Foundation since 2014.
Bülent Utku: Born in Gölcük, Utku graduated from Istanbul University Law School and started his career as an attorney in the authoritarian period that followed the 12 September 1980 coup. He has been working as an attorney registered to the İstanbul Bar Association for 35 years and as a lawyer to Cumhuriyet since 1993, a period in which he has played an active part in high profile cases such as ‘Mısır Çarşısı’ and ‘Oda TV’. He serves as a board member in the Cumhuriyet Foundation and in the Yenigün News Agency.

Mustafa Kemal Güngör: Born in 1959 in Istanbul, Güngör graduated from Istanbul University Law School and started his career as an attorney in the authoritarian period that followed the 12 September 1980 coup. He has been working as an attorney registered to the İstanbul Bar Association for 35 years and as a lawyer to Cumhuriyet since 1993, a period in which he has played an active part in high profile cases such as ‘Mısır Çarşısı’ and ‘Oda TV’. He serves as a board member in the Cumhuriyet Foundation and in the Yenigün News Agency.

Ahmet Şık: Award-winning investigative journalist Ahmet Şık has worked tirelessly to uncover political corruption in Turkey since 1991, writing for Cumhuriyet, Evrensel, Radikal, Nokta, BirGun and Reuters. He has also written three books: the first two, published in 2010, are about Ergenekon, an illegal organisation alleged to be behind many acts of political violence in Turkey, and its relationship to Turkish military. The third, The Imam’s Army, deals with the influence of the Gülen Movement, in Turkey’s police and judiciary. Ahmet Şık was previously arrested in March 2011 along with a group of journalists alleged to be the media arm of Ergenekon. He was accused of ‘knowingly and willingly aiding and abetting an illegal organisation’ under Article 220/7 of the Turkish Penal Code, of ‘membership of an armed organisation’ under Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code, he was held on pre-trial detention for 13 months.During the latest hearing in December 2016, the prosecutor demanded that the charges should be dropped on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence. Ahmet Şık was awarded the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. In late 2015, he was the first writer to be selected for a residency at the Free Word Centre in London, UK on a new programme for writers and journalists administered by English PEN, Free Word and ARTICLE 19, in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

After the failed coup of 15 July 2016, a state of emergency was declared. Since the imposition of the state of emergency, Turkey’s Council of Ministers has issued numerous decrees granting the Turkish authorities wide-ranging powers. A number of these affect the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and have been used to facilitate the arrest and harassment of media personnel. There are credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of those in police custody following the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights. There has also been a massive crackdown on Turkey’s Kurdish population, with arrests of Kurdish journalists and closures of pro-Kurdish media outlets, the forced replacement of elected local officials and arrests of MPs from the pro-Kurdish HDP party. On 11 November, the activities of some 370 NOGs were arbitrarily suspended, over half of them Kurdish organisations.

While recognising the right of the Turkish authorities to bring those responsible for crimes committed during the attempted coup of 15 July 2016 to justice, PEN International calls on the Turkish authorities to safeguard freedom of expression, human rights and respect their obligations under international law during the declared state of emergency and to release all journalists and writers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, as appears to be the case with Cumhuriyet employees.

For more information on PEN's work on Turkey click here.