News / Europe

Turkish Journalist Arrests Raise Concern About Media Freedom

Hundreds of journalists protest the detention of journalists in Ankara, Turkey. (File Photo - March 19, 2011)
Hundreds of journalists protest the detention of journalists in Ankara, Turkey. (File Photo - March 19, 2011)
Dorian Jones

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.

Worrying trend

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.

Detentions

OSCE representative for media freedom Dunja Mijatović met earlier this month with government officials.

"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, 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.

Government's position

Egemen Bagis, Turkish State Minister and chief negotiator for Turkey in accession talks with the European Union during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary. (File Photo)
Egemen Bagis, Turkish State Minister and chief negotiator for Turkey in accession talks with the European Union during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary. (File Photo)

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 ones.

"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.

Intimidation

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 repercussions.

"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.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs