RSF launches campaign to protest Turkey’s Erdoğan during UK visit

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) along with several other international press freedom organizations have launched a campaign to protest Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has announced that he will visit the UK to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May and other British officials on May 15.

RSF has called people to join their protest outside Downing Street on May 15, from 9-11 am, urging the Turkish government to release jailed journalists and to stop a crackdown on press freedom.

RSF said in a statement that “Turkey’s President Erdoğan will be visiting the UK for official meetings from 13-15 May. Join us for a protest opposite Downing Street calling for the release of Turkey’s imprisoned journalists.”

The statement continued as follows:

“Under the state of emergency declared following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, President Erdoğan has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on critical voices in Turkey, including the media. Turkey is now the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists, and is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

In April 2018, President Erdoğan announced snap presidential and parliamentary elections, due to take place on 24 June 2018, nearly 18 months before they were expected and under the ongoing state of emergency. In light of the ongoing crackdown, there are widespread concerns that the public does not have full access to independent information ahead of casting their votes. One leading writer from Turkey has described the decision as “a way of stealing our power.”

Attempts to silence journalists have by no means abated in 2018. April also saw harsh sentences handed down to English PEN’s former writer-in-residence Ahmet Şık and his colleagues at Cumhuriyet, the oldest independent newspaper in Turkey. On learning of the sentence, Şık, defiant as ever, declared:

“Do not despair. No dictatorship has ever won the fight to silence those who are right. We will win.”

Cumhuriyet’s Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu was also among those sentenced. His comments echoed sentiments that have been shared by many fellow writers in Turkey since July 2016:

“Journalists used to be witnesses of news and history. Now journalists are acting as witnesses in a trial in which their colleagues are being prosecuted, and this will go down in history, too.”

While Şık and Sabuncu remain free pending appeal, travel bans have been placed on them and their co-defendants in a clear attempt to silence them not only in Turkey but in the international arena.

There have been other further developments, for example on 26 April when leading writer Ahmet Altan was finally acquitted of ‘insulting the President’ in relation to an interview given three years earlier. While Ahmet has described the verdict as a momentous decision for freedom of expression it can bring little comfort to his family and supporters as he and his brother, the academic Mehmet Altan, continue to serve life in prison without parole on separate charges of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.’

English PEN is also deeply concerned about the many academics and publishers on trial or otherwise at risk in the wake of the coup. According to English PEN’s latest report ‘Turkey: freedom of expression in jeopardy’, co-authored by experts Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak, more than 5000 academics have been dismissed and 30 publishing houses have been shut since the failed coup in July 2016.

With so many of journalists and other writers at risk in Turkey, it is essential that we come together to support our imprisoned colleagues.

Join English PEN, Index on Censorship, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, CRNI – Cartoonists Rights Network, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Global Editors Network, South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and IFEX to send a strong message to the authorities, both in Turkey and the UK.”

Meanwhile, releasing a statement on Thursday, Amnesty International (AI) also called on the UK to keep human rights in Turkey a priority ahead of President Erdoğan’s visit.

“Responding to the news report that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit the UK in the next few days, Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said that “This visit is an opportunity for Theresa May to show the President that human rights and a thriving civil society in Turkey are a priority for the UK.

“Under the cloak of a state of emergency, the Turkish authorities have deliberately set about dismantling civil society, locking up human rights defenders, shutting down organisations and creating a suffocating climate of fear,” said AI in its statement.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 254 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 8, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 62 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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