Turkish government bans access to critical Ahval news website

The Turkish Telecommunications Authority (BTK) on Wednesday imposed an access ban on the critical news website ahvalnews.com as the Turkish government’s crackdown on the press organizations continues at full speed.

The BTK barred access to Ahval citing Law No. 5651, approved by the Turkish Parliament in February 2014 to regulate Internet broadcasting. Autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has been criticised by the European Union and international human rights groups for censorship of the media and other anti-democratic steps.

Ahval, which was established by veteran Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar in November 2017, with a team of Turkish and foreign editors, reporters and analysts, is known for its critical coverage in English, Turkish and Arabic of ongoing developments in Turkey, which has been under a state of emergency since a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Dozens of journalists have been jailed since the putsch, while more than a hundred media outlets have been closed down under the pretext of a counter-coup fight due to their anti-government stance.

The ban on Ahval was welcomed by an official at the Turkish government’s press department. Sercan Doğan, who works for the prime ministry’s Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM), wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “Ahval news has been sent flying, good riddance.” Doğan’s primary task is to “facilitate the activities of foreign media outlets and their employees in Turkey,” according to his LinkedIN profile.

The BYEGM, established by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1920, has refused to renew the press cards of several foreign journalists over the past few years, forcing them to leave Turkey. The cards are required to renew work and residence permits.

No reason has been given for the government ban, which Ahval is planning to appeal in the courts.

Among Ahval’s long list of contributors is Nurcan Baysal, an activist and author who was handed down a suspended 10-month sentence by a Turkish court last month for criticising the government’s treatment of the Kurdish minority. “This [the ban] is very upsetting for freedoms in Turkey,” Baysal wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “This is a struggle for journalism and freedom. Long may it continue.”

Former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış also writes editorials for the site.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of February 22, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison, 205 were under arrest pending trial, while only 35 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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