Seventeen int’l press freedom groups condemn raid on pro-Kurdish daily

Seventeen international press freedom groups have called on Turkish authorities to immediately release 12 printing plant workers and staff arrested on March 28 at the office and printing plant of the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper and an additional 15 employees taken into custody in raids on their homes on the morning of March 29.

The groups stated that Turkish authorities must also restore control of the paper and premises to its rightful owners.

The International Press Institute (IPI), PEN International, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), Article 19, Norwegian PEN, Index on Censorship, English PEN, Articolo 21, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN Belgium/Flanders, Wales PEN Cymru, PEN Germany, PEN Club Français and PEN Suisse Romand also condemned the fact that lawyers representing the arrestees have been denied contact with prosecutors and access to any written documentation in relation to the raids.

The joint statement made by 17 international press freedom groups is as follow: 

“Two officials purporting to be from the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) are in place at the print works and premises of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, a pro-Kurdish daily, and claim to be holding the sites until they receive further instructions. For its part, the TMSF, now part of the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate of National Estates and formerly an independent banking watchdog under the auspices of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, has denied having received instructions to seize the newspaper’s assets.

According to lawyers acting for the detained printworkers and Özgürlükçü Demokrasi’s principal signatory İhsan Yaşar and Kasım Zengin the owner of Gün Printing Advertising Film and Publishing Inc, where the newspaper is printed, a press crimes investigation into the paper was opened on February 7.This was followed by a separate counter-terrorism investigation that began on March 23. It is believed that both investigations, of which no written notification has been made to the paper, are in relation to Özgürlükçü Demokrasi’s coverage of Turkey’s incursion into Afrin, northern Syria.

As the sole remaining Kurdish daily newspaper in İstanbul, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is vital in maintaining the extremely fragile access to information that is not controlled by the state.Following the closure of other pro-Kurdish newspapers and television stations such as Azadiya Welat, IMC TV and Hayatın Sesi in 2016, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is one of the last sources of pro-Kurdish daily printed news in Turkey.

‘The Turkish authorities must halt their sustained repression of Kurdish culture and language. We are highly alarmed by the onslaught on Kurdish and pro-Kurdish media outlets and journalists that has intensified dramatically since the crackdown on freedom of expression since the attempted coup of July 2016, and now reached a new low point with this takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi’, said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

We, the signatories of this statement, strongly condemn the takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, which has taken place without any legal justification or documentation. We reject the denial of information and prosecutoral access to lawyers acting for Özgürlükçü Demokrasi’s arrested staff members.

“The government’s takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is extremely concerning” said Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, “We urge European and other governments to condemn the obliteration of free media in Turkey.”

We call for the release of the arrested staff members and printworkers and official confirmation from the TMSF of the legal status of the alleged acquisition of Engin Publishing Print Inc. — and the Gün Printing Advertising Film and Publishing Inc.

Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19 said: “The takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi restricts the space for freedom of expression even further in Turkey and curtails the right of the public to access information on issues of public interest, particularly in relation to the on-going conflict in the South East of the country. We call for the authorities to cease harassing this newspaper and restore much needed media freedom in Turkey.”

The takeover of one of the last remaining opposition newspapers follows the aqcuisition last week of Turkey’s largest media organization and newspaper distributor, Doğan Group, by Turkish conglomerate Demirören, whose media outlets are known for taking a pro-government stance.In the week prior to the purchase, an internet streaming bill was passed granting the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) sweeping powers to monitor, license and block online streaming channels and news providers.

“This latest act against freedom press confirms that Erdogan wants to repress any free voice in Turkey. A firm position in Europe is needed to make pressure the Turkish government to restore the rule of law as soon as possible with the cessation of the state of emergency,” said Antonella Napoli member of Articolo 21 and coordinator of Free Turkey Media in Italy.

International Press Institute (IPI)’s Turkey Advocacy Coordinator Caroline Stockford said, “IPI strongly condemns yesterday’s raid and the government’s tactic of shutting down Özgürlükçü Demokrasi in an apparently illegal manner in order to silence dissenting voices in the run-up to the presidential elections.Despite the opportunity presenting itself at this week’s Varna summit, Europe failed again to strongly condemn Turkey’s repression of free media and free speech.”

The peoples of Turkey have a right to access informative opposition reporting in order to form a balanced opinion especially in the lead up to an election.We call on Turkey to respect the human right to freedom of expression and to refrain from its practice of stifling all opposition media and to release the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi workers from detention.

We, the undersigned, call on European newspapers and governments to make clear statements to Turkey that access to balanced, critical reporting is essential to democracy and that the freedom of the press must be respected and maintained.”

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 245 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 26, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 189 were under arrest pending trial while only 56 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 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 about 200 media outlets after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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