Exiled Turkish journalist harassed by Turkish embassy, security officials at Johannesburg event

A Turkish journalist who is currently living in exile in South Africa was subjected to harassment and physical intervention by the Turkish embassy and security officials while he was covering an event on Palestine in the South African city of Johannesburg on Friday, the Turkish Minute news website reported.

Türkmen Terzi faced attempts to prevent him from taking photos at the three-day Global Anti-Apartheid Conference on Palestine, which kicked off in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Friday, although he received accreditation to follow the event.

Journalist Türkmen Terzi

Seated in the audience was Turkey’s former prime minister and leader of the opposition Gelecek (Future) Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, as well as Turkish ambassador in Pretoria Ayşegül Kandaş, both of whom were accompanied by large security details.

Terzi told Turkish Minute that he faced intervention from Turkish embassy officials and Davutoğlu’s protective detail after he attempted to take a photo of the audience from the front side of the hall.

He said a Turkish security guard, who he thought was part of the security detail accompanying Davutoğlu, who was sitting in the front row, appeared after he was pointed out by the ambassador.

The security guard tried to prevent him from taking photos and asked him to leave the Sandton Convention Center, where the event was taking place.

Terzi said he resisted the intervention and reported the incident to a media representative from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the foreign ministry of South Africa, who took the issue to the organizers of the event.

“I also noticed that members of the Turkish delegation were talking among themselves about me. I told them this is South Africa and that they have no right to prevent me from practicing my profession as journalist here,” Terzi said.

He said the organizers of the event, who took note of his complaint, spoke to Turkish embassy officials and Ambassador Kandaş and told them they would have to leave if the harassment of the journalist continued.

Terzi was able to follow the event after the organizers intervened.

“Imagine if I were a journalist in Erdoğan’s Turkey! A very scary thought, indeed,” Terzi said, referring to the plight of independent journalists in Turkey who face physical attacks and legal harassment on a daily basis due to their journalistic activities.

Terzi, who has been living in South Africa since 2009, was a reporter for the now-closed Cihan news agency, one of the media outlets closed down by the Turkish government in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016 due to its affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding the failed coup, although the movement strongly denies any involvement in it.

Terzi, who is being sought on terrorism charges due to his links to the Gülen movement, cannot travel to Turkey due to the risk of arrest and works as a freelance journalist in South Africa.

It is frequent for Turkish journalists like Terzi who live in exile to be subjected to harassment and attacks abroad.

In 2022 the pro-government Sabah daily secretly tracked political dissidents in Europe and targeted people whose extradition is demanded by the Turkish government.

Abdurrahman Şimşek, news coordinator for the Sabah newspaper, targeted four journalists in exile — Cevheri Güven in Germany and Abdullah BozkurtBülent Keneş and Levent Kenez in Sweden — and former police chief Murat Çetiner, also in Sweden, by revealing their addresses and secretly taken photos on the paper’s front page.

In 2020 Bozkurt was attacked near his home in Stockholm. In 2022, Ahmet Dönmez, another Turkish journalist living in exile, was also attacked by unidentified men in Stockholm.

Both were working for Gülen-linked media outlets in Turkey and had to flee the country to avoid the government crackdown on critical journalists.

Turkey, which has been suffering from a poor record on media freedom, ranks 158th among 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index published on May 3.

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