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Rights group: Turkey silences all opposition media

December 15, 2016

The international rights group Human Rights Watch has accused Turkey of quashing independent and opposition media outlets. Turkey claims it's fighting multiple sources of terrorism.

Türkei Demonstranten unterstützen Pro-kurdische Zeitung Ozgur Gundem
Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that Turkey had "sharpened" its "assault" on journalism since the failed coup in July. The report said Turkey has "all but silenced independent media" as part of an ongoing purge on dissident voices in the country, which it says has accelerated since 2014.

The watchdog highlighted that journalists are being detained on "bogus charges" including terrorism as part of the crackdown. HRW's Europe and Central Asia director, Hugh Williamson, said 148 journalists and other media workers had been detained under the ongoing state of emergency in the country. This is in addition to 140 media outlets and 29 publishing houses that have been shut down as part of the post-coup state of emergency, leaving more than 2,500 journalists and media workers unemployed.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Türkei Präsident
Turkish President Erdogan claims Turkey has the highest level of press freedom in the worldImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M.Cetinmuhurdar

Williamson also told the Associated Press that the Turkish government's "systematic effort to silence media in the country is all about preventing public scrutiny."

"Keeping 148 journalists and media workers in jail and closing down 169 media and publishing outlets under the state of emergency shows how Turkey is deliberately flouting basic principles of human rights and rule of law central to democracy," he added.

Turkish officials did not comment on the report's findings.

Using terror as an excuse

Turkey - Death of Press Freedom? (15.09.2016)

The Turkish government continues to claim that there is no problem with press freedom in the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier in the year referred to Turkey as the country with the highest level of press freedom in the world. Instead, the Turkish government claims that it is fighting a host of terrorist organizations.

The government has used the term "terrorist," however, to refer to Kurdish militants, the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group, as well as to backers of the failed coup.

While the number of terror attacks in Turkey has risen significantly in recent months, they are widely regarded as a reaction to Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian measures, as he gears up to have the Turkish Constitution changed to grant greater powers to the president's office.

Dissidents from Kurdistan to Pennsylvania

The vast majority of media outlets closed in the wake of the coup attempt were alleged to have links to the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of ordering the ouster. Gulen, who strongly denies the charges, lives in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, where he heads a global movement referred to as "Hizmet," which translates as "service."

Turkey has brandished the group a terrorist organization and has put an end to all of its economic activities in Turkey, including its media enterprises. Erdogan's followers want to see Gulen extradited to Turkey to stand trial, as calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty for coup plotters increase in number.

Human-Rights-Watch Hugh Williamson
Hugh Williamson says that the main motivation behind the purge is not preventing terrorism but rather ensuring that there be no public scrutiny of the governmentImage: Raum11/Jan Michalko

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, stressed that Ankara's crackdown did not only affect those with alleged links to Hizmet but extended also to pro-Kurdish media and others. The report said the crackdown had effectively wiped out "all media with a following among the Kurdish minority in Turkey."

In recent weeks, the government has placed all leadership figures of the democratically elected, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) under arrest, accusing the movement of harboring close ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency campaign particularly in the southeast of the country for more than 30 years.

Fethullah Gulen
Fethullah Gulen denies the charges brought against him as Turkey continues to press for the cleric's extraditionImage: Reuters/C. Mostoller

HRW also accused Turkish authorities of silencing independent voices critical of the government, citing the October arrests of 12 senior staff members of the opposition daily newspaper "Cumhuriyet," including its editor-in-chief. They all stand accused of having committed crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and Gulen followers.

The paper's previous editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, has been living in exile after spending several months in prison in late 2015 and early 2016, accused of sharing state secrets.

A grim outlook

HRW said it spoke with 61 Turkish journalists, editors, lawyers and press freedom activists to compile its report while also reviewing court documents relating to the prosecution and jailing of journalists and media workers. The organization also flagged instances of physical attacks on journalists.

The HRW report comes after Reporters Without Borders said earlier in the week that Turkey had become the "world's biggest prison for the media profession" after labeling Erdogan an "enemy of press freedom" earlier. The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe also made comments earlier this month on the state of the press in Turkey, saying it was "terrifying." 

ss/sms (AP, AFP)


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