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Turkish journalists join forces

Sendada Sokollu / mzJuly 14, 2013

Protests against the Turkish government continue, with journalists and artists now joining the fold. They're speaking out against the violence against journalists and censorship of the press that takes place in Turkey.

Media workers take part in a rally as police with water cannon trucks block them, in Istiklal Street, Istanbul's main shopping strip on Friday, July 12, 2013. Police have blocked around 1,000 of journalists from marching in Istanbul to demand press freedoms and denounce the harassment of colleagues during a spate of anti-government demonstrations last month. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

"Talk here, if you've got the courage," the police officer said before punching him in the face, Gökhan Bicici says. Bicici, a journalist, was arrested on June 16 while reporting on the protests in Istanbul's Gezi Park. Amateur video of the arrest quickly made the rounds online, showing how the journalist is dragged along the ground by four officers who kick him in the face.

Bicici has worked for the private, as he puts it, "opposition" television station IMC-TV, for four years. He is one of many journalists who participated in the recent protest against censorship of the media and police violence against journalists. Several hundred took part in the latest demonstration on Friday (12.07.2013), which was organized online using Twitter and Facebook.

Gökhan Bicici is placed under arrest
Bicici says arrests like his are not uncommonImage: Mürsel Coban

The activists shouted: "This is just the beginning, the fight goes on!" and "AKP, take your hands off the media!", a reference to the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkish government.

Posters read, "Stop the pressure" and "Empty the cells. Freedom for journalists." A group of police blocked the way to Istanbul's Taksim Square with water cannons, and around an hour after the demonstrations began, security forces ordered the crowd to disperse.

'The protest is a new beginning'

The journalist Bicici doesn't have an official press pass. He told Deutsche Welle that was the reason he was arrested.

"There is a yellow ID, but only state authorities hand it out. Most people don't get those," he said.

For that reason, the government is able to keep the number of accredited journalists who are arrested down, Bicici explains.

"If the governor of Istanbul refers to people 'posing' as journalists, then the police squad leader sees himself justified in ripping my accreditation from my neck," Bicici said. "The police apparently think they then have the right to beat me, detain me, and to drag me around."

"We'll organize to fight against this rather than going it alone," he said, adding that Friday's protest was a new beginning.

Bicici recalls he tried to resist when a police officer tried to take away his smartphone.

"Then another officer came and literally said, 'take him into a building and take care of him.' I had the feeling that my life was in danger, because journalists in Turkey have been killed like that."

Bicici heard from other colleagues that they were injured during their arrests or the transport in busses that followed. In his case, Bicici said, it took police seven hours to take him to a police station after his arrest. He adds that such treatment is nothing new in Turkey.

Repression of Kurdish media

Zeynep Kuray, a Kurdish journalist who also took part in Friday's demonstration, said she was imprisoned for a year and a half. She was released about two months ago.

She's worked at the socialist-leaning newspaper BirGün (One Day) and the Kurdish news agency Firat for years.

Zeynep Kuray
Kuray reports for a Kurdish publication and faces particular scrutinyImage: DW/S. Sokollu

Kuray and some of her colleagues were convicted of being a member of the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KSK), an organization that has been declared illegal in Turkey.

"Our apartments were raided on December 20, 2011," Kuray said. "Our cameras, our notebooks, all of our material was taken away – and we were, too. They stuck us in jail to silence us."

The Kurdish press is under the worst pressure in Turkey, says Kuray.

"There was so much abuse in prison. It's not clear why people had even been incarcerated."

In prison, Kuray continued to write, saying "we aren't afraid – not of the government or the police. The pen is our weapon."

'Erdogan is trying to take democracy away''

Nazan Özcan is the editor of the weekly edition of the newspaper Radikal. She says she experiences censorship nearly every day.

"Your boss can tell you that a particular article can't be published because the government of the Prime Minister would get angry about it," she told Deutsche Welle. "That's normal. I'm really not surprised, when I hear this sentence."

Bedri Baykam is another demonstrator against censorship. He's a well-known artist, president of the Turkish artists' association and a journalist at the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Bedri Baykam
Even members of Turkey's cultural scene, such as Baykam, face censorshipImage: DW/S. Sokollu

"Threatening artists, censoring the theater scene, all the people in jail – when it comes to this stuff, Turkey is near the top globally," Baykam said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

He particularly wants to say to Germany that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hasn't brought democracy to Turkey.

"He's trying to take Turkey's democracy away," Baykam said, "and we're not going to let it happen."