US asks Turkey to ensure judicial independence, release journalists

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert asked Turkey to ensure judicial independence and release imprisoned journalists during a press briefing on Thursday.

Nauert, who was asked a question about Cumhuriyet daily journalists, whose trials began on Monday after more than nine months in jail and for whom an interim verdict is to be given on Friday, said: “The United States remains seriously concerned about the widespread arrest and pretrial detention that’s taking place of individuals in Turkey who have been critical of that government. You mentioned the trial of 17 newspaper reporters. I know you are very familiar with this case, and many of us here have followed those cases as well. We continue to urge the government of Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, other human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to also release the journalists and others who we believe are being held arbitrarily under the government’s state of emergency.”

Expressing concerns about the current situation in Turkey, Nauert said US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, previously visited the Cumhuriyet daily and US embassy personnel observed some of the trial proceedings.

“He’s gone there, and that really shows our level of concern, the fact that he has gone there to express his support for journalists there, his support for our belief in freedom of expression, including freedom of expression that other governments and other individuals might find uncomfortable. So he continues to underscore our support for free, independent media, important work that they do in democratic societies,” added Nauert.

The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in an April indictment accuse them of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and the Gülen movement. The suspects were arrested by the İstanbul 9th Penal Court of Peace on Nov. 5, 2016.

Meanwhile, the Swiss foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday warning travelers to Turkey against entry and exit bans and imprisonment without court approval. The statement drew attention to the state of emergency, declared in the aftermath of a botched coup attempt on July 15, 2016 which has given the Turkish government the authority to limit fundamental rights and freedoms, and said: “In addition, during this state of emergency, imprisonment without court rulings as well as entry and exit bans could be ordered.”

Referring to the increased tension in Turkey in the wake of a national referendum in April, which proposed changes to the constitution, the foreign ministry reminded Swiss nationals that their critical social media posts about Turkey would not be tolerated.

The foreign ministry also advised Swiss citizens to be careful about their remarks and attitudes that might be perceived as insulting the Turkish state and its leaders to avoid punishment.

Germany also told last week its citizens to be cautious while travelling to Turkey as tension escalated between the two NATO allies after the arrest of human rights activists, including a German national and Turkey director of Amnesty International in Turkey.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 273 journalists are now in jails as of July 26, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 249 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 109 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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