Turkey Press Crackdown Seen Widening to Human Rights Groupsby
Reporters Without Borders representative in Turkey jailed
Charge stems from solidarity campaign with Kurdish news outlet
Turkey jailed three leading press freedom and human rights advocates, charging them with disseminating terrorist propaganda after they joined a solidarity campaign for a newspaper focusing on Kurdish issues.
Erol Onderoglu, who represents the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, was arrested after appearing in an Istanbul court on Monday. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, a forensics expert who helped set the international standard for documenting torture claims, and writer Ahmet Nesin, were also sent to prison on similar charges.
The three had served as honorary editors-in-chief for Ozgur Gundem, a daily newspaper and news website whose coverage focuses on the conflict between the government and the autonomy-seeking Kurdish militant group PKK. Turkish authorities have opened criminal investigations against 37 of 44 people who protested a crackdown on Ozgur Gundem staff by joining a campaign to serve as the paper’s rotating "on-duty editor-in-chief" since last month, T24 news reported.
Monday’s arrests mark "an unbelievable low" for Turkey, Reporters Without Borders said in a tweet following the arrests. Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch, said they also signify a new chapter in Turkey’s crackdown on civil society.
"These are the very people who have been documenting the human rights deterioration in Turkey," Sinclair-Webb said by phone from Berlin on Monday. "We’ve seen this kind of crackdown on the media, we’ve seen this kind of crackdown on academics, and I think now this is the beginning of a crackdown on human rights defenders themselves."
Turkey has slid toward the bottom of world press freedom rankings during the 14-year rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, and his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said last year that Turkey has one of the world’s worst records for jailing journalists, along with China and Egypt.
Fincanci, who also heads the Turkey Human Rights Foundation, is a renowned forensic scientist whose work helped set the international standard for the documentation of torture claims. Her name is on the document adopted by the United Nations in 1999 that set guidelines for investigating alleged torture, also known as the Istanbul Protocol. Nesin is an author and journalist, and the son of celebrated Turkish writer Aziz Nesin.
Turkey ranked 151st out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index, sandwiched between Tajikistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Journalists in Turkey are frequently accused of insulting Erdogan, an offense that carries a jail sentence, or with terrorist propaganda for coverage of the conflict in the nation’s Kurdish-majority southeast that doesn’t toe the government line.
The European Union is insisting that Turkey amend its broad anti-terrorism laws before Turkish citizens can be granted visa-free travel to the bloc’s Schengen zone. Erdogan has refused, citing security risks due to terror threats from groups including the PKK and Islamic State. The impasse threatens to derail a deal between the EU and Turkey, a membership candidate, on stemming the flow of refugees from Syria via Turkey to Europe.
The arrests show "the depths to which Turkey’s authorities have sunk to silence any and all narratives that differ with the government’s,” Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer for the London-based Index on Censorship, said in an e-mailed statement. "Press freedom in Turkey has rapidly declined in the last six months," the group said, noting 31 arrests or detentions since Jan. 1, three journalists killed and attempts to kill two others.