Friday, June 28, 2013

Turkey's use of counterterrorism law to suppress media



The crackdown on the media in Turkey continues with arrests and searches of homes and offices of journalists as Ankara tries to stifle ant-government protests. But this is only one part of the suppression of the media, especially in the Kurdish language, where journalists criticising the government are routinely accused of terrorism.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) that monitors freedom of expression issues around the world, expressed concern over aggressive statements made by Ankara and raids on media organisations and journalists covering the protests. RSF said organisers, their supporters and journalists had been accused of acting “at the behest of ‘external actors’ or in collusion with ‘terrorist organizations’ with the aim of destabilizing the country.”

“The protest movement’s criminalization is being accompanied by an unacceptable and dangerous climate of hostility towards the media … We call for immediate explanations of the arrests of journalists in recent days. Raids on journalists’ homes and news media violate the principle of the protection of sources, the cornerstone of media freedom,” RSF observed in a statement on June 18.

RSF, which places Turkey as the 154th of the 179 countries on the Press Freedom Index, reported that anti-terrorism police had raided the offices of a number of leftwing newspapers and the homes of journalists who work for them. Etkin News Agency (ETHA) is one such targeted with its offices raided on the 18th with two of its senior women journalists held under house arrest.

RSF also pointed to a number of Turkish and foreign journalists who had been targeted by law enforcement authorities since protests began in late May. In a statement on June 17, it named eight reporters who were arrested for covering events at Istanbul as the police used violence to evict protestors. The journalists were detained and later released.

Although Turkey’s harsh treatment of the independent media is in the spotlight only following the protests, it is one the most media-hostile governments in the world. As mentioned in my posting June 26, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), Turkey has 45 journalists – the largest number in the world – behind bars.

Among those who are targeted by Turkish authorities are journalists working Kurdish language media organisations. The minority Kurds, victims of Turkey’s vicious policy of political repression, have been fighting to establish a state of their own. In a June 12th posting, the German newspaper Spiegel Online International’s Michael Sontheimer describes the ordeal of Zeynep Kuray (35), a Kurdish-language journalist who was arrested in December 2011, by five plainclothes officers entering her apartment in Istanbul at 5.00 a.m. in the morning.

“After she had spent three days in the Istanbul police prison, a prosecutor informed her that she was being accused of being a member of a terrorist organization, the media committee of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK). He claimed that the KCK was a cover for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which wanted to create a Kurdish nation with armed force,” Sontheimer writes. Kuray was released on bail in April although many other Kurdish-language journalists remain in detention.

“‘Turkey’s counterterrorism laws are archaic and repressive,’ says Christophe Deloire, the general secretary of Reporters without Borders... Under … the country’s anti-terror law, spreading ‘propaganda for a terrorist organization’ carries a penalty of two to seven-and-a-half years in prison,” states the Spiegel Online story.

At a panel discussion on press freedom in Turkey on March 27, Susan Corke of the New York-based Freedom House referred to a Carnegie report which said that 68% of journalists detained in Turkey in 2012 were held under counterterrorism laws. “These detentions have been justified on the basis of combating the PKK, especially through the KCK case… Reporting on, or printing material produced by, the PKK, should not in itself be considered a crime,” Corke said. (Freedom House classifies media in Turkey as partly free)

Placing the rising importance of Turkey to the West and its role in war in Syria, Corke cautioned that security should not be the sole lens through which the west’s relations with Turkey are viewed. She recommends two ways whereby the West could press Ankara on media reform: by strengthening civil society actors and by including freedom of the media as a benchmark in the dialogue on Turkey’s full accession to the European Union membership.

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