Turkey: Journalists from former Zaman Media Group ask EFJ/IFJ for help during climate of fear

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Three Turkish journalists from Zaman Media Group were at the EFJ/IFJ offices on Friday 29 July to seek international help in response to current media crackdown in Turkey.

The journalists included Selçuk Gültaşlı, a correspondent for former Zaman Media Group in Belgium, Sevgi Akarçeşme, editor-in-chief for former Today’s Zaman, and Mete Öztürk, editor-in-chief of former Zaman Belçika and Zaman Vandaag.

By Friday 29 July, the number of arrests warrants delivered against journalists has grown to 89 arrest warrants. The IFJ/EFJ has registered over 60 journalists detained. The newspaper, ZAMAN, and its English version Today’s Zaman were among the first media to be closed down by Erdogan’ government on 28 July.

Sevgi Akarçeşme told the IFJ/EFJ about her timely escape from Turkey in March before authorities issued a warrant for her arrest.  She was due to fly to New York this week to start a one year academic programme at Cuny, but the Turkish government has cancelled her passport.  She currently has one year permanent residency in the country.

She said that her ‘biggest concern is the security and well-being of  colleagues who are still in Turkey’.  Sevgi’s family was investigated after an arrest warrant issued for her in Turkey when her house was raided by police.

Communication in Turkey with family members of journalists who have been targeted by government authorities is risky  Turkish police are  reported to randomly check Whatsapp accounts, and downloading encryption software immediately make the message recipient a target for investigation.  Sevgi admitted that the entire experience has made her ‘feel like a Jew under Nazi rule’.

All three journalists condemned the attempted coup with the strongest possible terms and underlined that although they  strongly criticise the government and President Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian style of governance, ‘the government came with ballot box and should go with ballot box’, they emphasised.

Selçuk Gültaşlı also expressed great concern for his colleagues still in Turkey and those journalists who are already behind bars.  One of his colleagues who was arrested after the coup, has not been heard from for 15 days.  Selçuk said the lack of communication from those detained was ubiquitous, referring many examples of family members who hadn’t heard from their loved ones for many days.

All three journalists admitted to receiving death threats and hate messages on social media. They claim president Erdogan has been employing members to troll social media and harass journalists like themselves.  They have been called traitors of the country and are accused of being a part of FETÖ, the terrorist organisation headed by Fethullah Gülen, that is accused of enacting the coup attempt.

This organised propaganda has created a domino effect, enlisting common citizens to attack the journalists on social media as well.  Selçuk and Mete say they have even been attacked by Turkish people residing in Belgium, suggesting the hate speech is spreading to the rest of Europe too.  The journalists believe the climate of hate will only worsen as it becomes impossible for the average Turkish citizen to receive information not laden with propaganda.  ‘Even neighbours are calling the police against people now,’ Selçuk lamented.

Getting out of Turkey remains difficult for journalists with increased surveillance at the border and journalist passports cancelled.  Many journalists went into hiding.

The 3 journalists also deplored that lawyers in Turkey are refusing to support journalists in their legal case as they fear they could also be subjected to further arrests.

The meeting confirmed that the protection and security of Turkish journalists should be the IFJ and EFJ’s top priority in the face of Turkey’s media crackdown. The federations are questioning the poor reaction of the European Union and the United Nations on Turkey’s deliberate attacks on human rights and democracy.  They have launched a campaign to support Turkish journalists and have asked their affiliates to take a stand. A special fund is now available through the IFJ safety fund to support individual cases.

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