The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) at a Wednesday press conference in Diyarbakır protested threats made by the police against journalist Cengiz Anıl Bölükbaşı of the Evrensel daily, Gazete Duvar reported.
Bölükbaşı was detained on August 24 by three men who presented themselves as police officers. He claims they tried to convince him to work as an informant. When Bölükbaşı refused, they allegedly told him he would suffer the consequences, saying: “We know you are not doing anything illegal, but other organizations in Diyarbakır are. You would not want to be responsible for anything bad, like a bomb going off.”
Veysel Ok, co-director of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), says journalism is still associated with terrorism in Turkey. According to a trial monitoring study conducted by MLSA and the International Press Institute (IPI), professional work in Turkey is used as evidence against journalists in the overwhelming majority of court cases.
Representatives of several organizations attended the press conference, including Cihan Aydın, president of the Diyarbakır Bar; Kenan Çetin, president of the Dersim Bar; Dicle-Fırat Journalists Association co-chair Serdar Altan; İmam Taşçıer from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); and Evrensel columnist and Labor Party (EMEP) executive board member Yusuf Karataş.
TGS Diyarbakır representative Mahmud Oral said the threats and intimidation of Bölükbaşı reminded them of Turkey in the ’90s, which he defined as the “republic of terror.”
“The ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] categorically sees journalism as terrorism and journalists as terrorists. They have thought this way since 2002 when they came to power. Because of this attitude, civil servants in the field do not refrain from reacting to critical journalism as a form of criminal conduct,” Oral said.
EMEP’s Karataş said journalists are being terrorized for their work and that they cannot remain silent in the face of this kind of conduct. Referring to the current oppression of journalists he said: “I want to remind the authorities that press freedom is part of the constitution and the press cannot be censored. Journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources, and it is a crime to force a journalist to spy on others.”
The HDP’s Taşçıer said the AKP government has a stranglehold on the national media and is trying to intimidate critical journalists with threats. “We need to take a stand against this,” he stated.
According to the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom and Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 177 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 168 journalists who are wanted on terrorism charges have been forced to live in exile.
The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest daily as well as its most popular TV networks since 2015.
According to İmam Taşçıer the police threatening Bölükbaşı is an indicator that the authorities are trying to block people’s right to access information, “There is a constant threat towards critical journalism. If the government does not hold the responsible parties accountable, then, unfortunately, incidents such as this will continue.”
Çetin, who represented the Diyarbakır Bar, demanded a formal investigation into the case of Bölükbaşı. “An effective investigation can only take place if there is an independent judiciary with prosecutors who do not take their orders from the presidential palace.”