The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in two separate statements on Friday called on the Turkish government to immediately release Majed Shama, a Syrian journalist residing in Turkey, and stop the deportation proceedings against him.
Shama was forced to sign a “voluntary repatriation document” after his report on Syrian refugees sharing videos on social media showing them eating bananas in an effort to condemn racism and discrimination in Turkey. According to Shama’s lawyer, Mehmet Ali Hartavi, he faces a high risk of execution if he’s returned to Syria.
The CPJ on Friday asked the Turkish authorities to allow Shama to do his job freely and safely.
“By arresting journalist Majed Shamaa and threatening him with deportation, Turkish authorities are not only showing a lack of sense of humor, but also an utter disregard for press freedom and human rights,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Turkish authorities must immediately release Shamaa, stop his deportation, and allow Syrian journalists in Turkey to do their jobs freely and without fear of reprisal.”
According to local media, Shama has been transferred to a deportation center in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.
In a separate statement, RSF said Shama’s repatriation would expose him to extremely serious and probably deadly reprisals at the hands of the Syrian authorities.
“We point out that expelling a Syrian citizen from Turkey would violate the principle of non-refoulement,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s representative in Turkey. “Under this principle of international law, no refugee may be sent back to a country where their life would be in danger.”
The “banana videos” were posted following a street interview in which a Turk says Syrians in Turkey “buy kilos of bananas” while he can’t even afford to buy them.
In the interview, several Turks are seen lashing out at a young Syrian student who says they “wouldn’t have had to come to Turkey if there was no war in Syria,” to which a woman responds “Then, fight it, just don’t talk anymore, and go away,” also physically trying to push her away. A man then says: “Go back to Syria. You’re just tenants, we’re the landlords here. [But] you live in better conditions than I do. I can’t eat bananas while you buy kilos of them at farmers markets.”
Syrians took to social media in response, posting dozens of videos on TikTok and other platforms. In one, a ninja breaks into a home filled with luxury items but steals only a bowl of bananas.
Shama is known for his satirical style. In the video he is seen to be secretly going to a fruit seller, buying bananas and hiding them under his sweater until he arrives in front of his apartment.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is nearing the boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the prices of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country’s roughly 5 million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria.
Hate crimes against refugees and migrants, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles, also have been escalating in the country in recent years.