Arrests, detentions and murders: Crackdown on media continues

As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, Turkey's unrelenting clampdown on civil society throughout 2017 has been widely condemned. In keeping with this trend of repression, on 17th October 2017 the Turkish Parliament extended emergency powers for the fifth time since July 2016. The legislation effectively enables Turkish authorities to suspend civic freedoms and permits the expedited passage of decrees without parliamentary review. As detailed in this update, the far-reaching crackdown on civic space has continued unabated, with a particular emphasis on restrictions to freedom of expression. Some of the emblematic cases from the last few months are detailed below. 

At the time of writing, Turkey remains on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space. 

Expression

As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Turkish authorities' unrelenting and brazen curtailment of freedom of expression has had a chilling impact on the space for free speech. This trend has only continued without reprieve, evidenced by the numerous instances of journalists and media houses being harassed, detained and prosecuted for allegedly supporting terrorism or insulting the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Recent monitoring of the situation documented over 800 journalists who had their press credentials cancelled in 2016.

In particular, the Turkish authorities have relied extensively on the legal system to target those critical of state policies. According to monitoring website Turkey Purge, 308 journalists have been arrested and 187 media outlets shutdown since 15th July 2016. Similarly, as further testament to the appalling disregard for freedom of expression, Turkey now holds the highest number of journalists in prison than any other country in the world, with over 170 media workers currently behind bars.

The crackdown continues

As outlined above, the severity of the situation in Turkey has led to the arrest of many high-profile journalists and the closure of numerous news outlets. Below are several emblematic examples of the severity of the crackdown which have taken place over the last few months.

  • On 18th October 2017, the managing editor of the outlet Evrensel was imprisoned for "insulting" President Erdoğan. Çağrı Sarı, the Evernsel's operating manager was found guilty of authoring a column in January 2017 deemed to be insulting of Turkish authorities Sarı subsequently received an 11-month sentence.
  • On 18th October 2017, a journalist working with the outlet Zaman was sentenced to six years and three months on terrorism charges. Mehmet Kuru was convicted by a court in Eskişehir on "membership in a terrorist organisation" despite being a journalist for sixteen years. The media outlet was forced to close in July 2016 under orders from Turkish authorities.
  • On 29th September 2017, a Turkish prosecutor sought an Interpol warrant for Can Dundar, the former editor of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet currently living in Germany. Dundar fled Turkey after being prosecuted for revealing links between Turkish security forces and Syrian Islamist rebels in May 2016.
  • On 12th October 2017, a human rights activist was prosecuted after penning an article called "Radical Evil" in the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper. Eren Keskin a human rights lawyer, was originally sentenced to six months in jail, which was later converted to a TL3000 fine.
  • On 14th October 2017, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party was detained only hours after giving birth by cesarean section. Sezgin Tanrıkulu was arrested over alleged links to a terrorist movement by Turkish security forces who waited outside the door of her hospital room to arrest her.

International journalists and outlets attacked

  • On 22nd September 2017, a Syrian-American journalist and her mother were found dead in their Istanbul apartment. Leading Syrian opposition journalist, Orouba Barakat and daughter Halla had been stabbed to death. As a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the elder Barakat had written extensively on unlawful detentions and the use of torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. While a suspect later confessed to murdering the two women, civil society groups have urged Turkish authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the two deaths.  
  • On 12th October 2017, a Turkish court sentenced a Wall Street Journal journalist with dual Turkish and Finnish citizenship to a two-year prison sentence over a 2015 story about ongoing clashes between Turkish security forces and fighters from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party. Ayla Albayrak, who is currently in the U.S., will appeal the conviction.
  • On 10th September 2017, the Turkish Interior minister accused the local British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) of terrorism following its report on a Turkish drone strike in the country's southeastern Hakkari province that left four dead. The Minister in question, Suleyman Soylu, accused the BBC of deliberately distorting the story.

Harassment of Bylock users

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, Turkish authorities have orchestrated a sweeping clampdown on users of a smartphone messaging application called "ByLock". In the previous update, an estimated 75,00 people had been detained and interrogated for using the messaging application. Over the past few months, several groups have detailed the continued harassment of individuals for simply have the application installed on their phone. Turkey Purge documented that detention warrants for a further 99 people were issued in Antalya in November, with 78 individuals subsequently arrested. An updated figure of the number of people arrested for downloading ByLock was unavailable at the time of writing.

Harassment of Kurdish media outlets

In the wake of the Kurdish referendum on independence held in the neighbouring territory of Kurdistan, Iraq, Turkish authorities have tightened their grip on Kurdish media outlets. On 25th September 2017, the Kurdish TV channels Waar TV, Kurdistan24 and Rudaw were all blocked by Turkey's state media regulator on national satellite provider Turksat