Turkish-German journalist and translator Adil Demirci, a reporter for left-leaning Etkin news agency (ETHA) was arrested by a Turkish court and sent to prison on Tuesday over his alleged membership to a terror organisation and propagating on the behalf of a terror organisation. Demirci’s arrest came one year after his ETHA news agency colleague, German journalist and translator Meşale Tolu, who was also detained and subsequently arrested.
According to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW) on Tuesday, Demirci lives in Germany and was on vacation in Turkey when he was taken into custody on the evening of April 13. That same night, the homes of two other ETHA employees, editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp, were raided.
ETHA Editor-in-Chief Derya Okatan describes the news agency as an “independent” media outlet that aims to make “the voices of the oppressed heard,” including the LGBT community, women, youth and Kurds, as well as minorities like Armenians and members of the Alevi sect of Islam.
ETHA’s website, which has been blocked in Turkey for roughly two years by the country’s communications authority (BTK), features domestic and international news stories that focus on the “oppressed” groups.
The news agency also publishes video statements from members of the banned Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP). However, Okatan has denied any connection between the ETHA and MLKP. “The reason for us to publish such news is that the ISIL is an organization that has carried out brutal massacres and it has hurt many people around the world,” he said. “Of course we are going to report about the war against this.”
Okatan told DW that the ETHA and its employees are being targeted by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan simply because “we are an opponent.” She conceded that while modern Turkey has not enjoyed true press freedom since its foundation in 1923, the current AKP government has taken “the attacks on the press to new extremes.”
Erdoğan wants to form a “one-man regime,” Okatan said, and therefore needs to silence any opposing voices in the country. “This is not only about ETHA news agency,” said Okatan. “This is actually about the whole of the press that are opponents [of the government].”
Relations between Germany and Turkey went into a tailspin after Turkey arrested several German citizens for alleged terrorism crimes and President Erdoğan slammed the German government for “Nazi tendencies” during campaigning for a referendum last year. Germany, along with other European Union countries, has expressed grave concern about Turkey’s human rights record and Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism since a failed coup in July 2016.
German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel was released by a Turkish court in February after political pressure by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. German Foreign Minister Sigmur Gabriel reportedly met secretly with Erdoğan to secure Yücel’s release.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 256 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 11, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 197 were under arrest pending trial while only 58 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 the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.