On 29 October, Turkey issued decree no. 676 ordering the closure of 15 Kurdish media outlets. Two days later 13 media workers from Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s largest secular, left-leaning paper, were detained bringing the total number of media outlets shut down under the state of emergency to 168; and the number of media workers and writers arrested to 109. ARTICLE 19 condemns this latest attack on diversity and dissent within the media in Turkey.
The Government of Turkey must cease its harassment of independent and critical media, and ensure that the state of emergency and other anti-terror legislation are not abused to silence dissent. We call upon Turkey to reverse the closures and immediately and unconditionally release all journalists, writers and other media workers imprisoned on politically-motivated charges.
Furthermore, we urge the international community, in particular the European Union, the United States and relevant international human rights bodies, to publicly and unequivocally condemn the closures and arrests.
Media outlets closed
The newspapers shut down under decree no 676 are: Özgür Gündem, Azadiya Welat, Batman Çağdaş, Cizre Postası, Güney Express, İdil Haber, Kızıltepe’nin Sesi, Prestij Haber, Urfanatik and Yüksekova Haber. The news agencies closed are: Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and Jin News Agency. The three magazines shut down were Tiroji, Özgürlük Dünyası and arts and culture magazine Evrensel Kültür.
The majority of these outlets are pro-Kurdish, and operate from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish provinces in the southeast. Their closure is part of an ongoing campaign of harassment against Kurdish media, which pre-dates the coup attempt.
Cumhuriyet journalists detained
During early morning police raids on 31 October, the following people were taken into custody: Murat Sabuncu (Cumhuriyet’s Editor-in-Chief); Kadri Gürsel (columnist and head of the International Press Institute’s Turkey office); Güray Öz (Cumhuriyet board executive and columnist); Aydın Engin (former Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief); Hikmet Çetinkaya (columnist); Eser Sevinç, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart, Bülent Utku, Mustafa Kemal Güngör and Önder Çelik (all board members of the Cumhuriyet Foundation); Turhan Günay (Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper’s book supplement); and Bülent Yener (accountant).
An arrest warrant was also issued for Can Dündar, the former Editor-in-Chief who is currently living in exile, and facing espionage charges regarding a story the newspaper published alleging that the Turkish government sent weapons to jihadist groups in Syria. According to media reports, prosecutors also issued detention warrants for two other executives of the newspaper, who are both also currently abroad.
Cumhuriyet is the oldest newspaper in Turkey and one of the few publications that continues to criticise the government. The detained journalists are accused of committing crimes on behalf of two terrorist organisations: the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) and the Fethüllah Terrorist Organisation (FETO), which the government accuses of being behind the failed coup attempt.
State of emergency
Turkey introduced a state of emergency in response to the failed coup of 15 July 2016, during which over 200 people were killed. We recognise Turkey’s right and responsibility to respond to the coup attempt and hold those responsible for the deaths accountable, however the government must stop abusing state of emergency provisions to violate the right to freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights, including the right to a fair trial.
ARTICLE 19 documented and analysed Turkey’s abuse of state of emergency decrees to suppress criticism in a recent report.