An Istanbul court yesterday ordered the newspaper’s indefinite closure on the grounds that it was allegedly acting as “mouthpiece” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and was therefore publishing “a terrorist organization’s propaganda.”
The police then stormed the newspaper’s Istanbul headquarters, seizing computers and arresting at least 17 members of its staff. Two journalists with the DİHA news agency and another two with İMC TV, who happened to be in the newspaper’s offices at the time, were also arrested*.
“Are we going to have to get used to seeing the police storm media outlets in Turkey?” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Closing a media outlet is the most extreme form of censorship, showing a determination to gag it rather than challenge its editorial policies.
“This unacceptable measure has dealt a new blow to pluralism and sent a strong intimidatory signal to all journalists in Turkey. We call on the authorities to lift the measures taken against Özgür Gündem.”
Launched in 1992, at the height of the fighting between the Turkish army and the PKK-led Kurdish rebels, Özgür Gündem has had a long history of persecution. It was banned from 1994 to 2011 and had to keep changing its name. Many of its reporters were murdered from 1992 to 1995 and his headquarters was bombed in 1994.
The ensuing years were less violent, but saw a succession of raids, arrests and seizures. Three human rights defenders, including RSF’s Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, spent ten days in prison in June for participating in a campaign in solidarity with Özgür Gündem. Charges are still pending against them.
Özgür Gündem’s website has been blocked in Turkey since fighting between the army and the PKK resumed in July 2015. The judicial authorities also requested the blocking of its Twitter account in late July. RSF published a report in October 2015 about the relationship between the Kurdish issue and media freedom in Turkey.
Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The situation of the media was already bad but got much worse as a result of the witchhunt launched after the 15 July coup attempt. A total of 102 media outlets have been closed by decree, a draconian state of emergency is in effect and no fewer than 44 journalists have been placed in provisional detention, making Turkey the world’s biggest prison for media personnel.
*The following journalists were arrested yesterday: Günay Aksoy, Kemal Bozkurt, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Önder Elaldı, Ender Öndeş, Sinan Balık, Davut Uçar, Fırat Yeşilçınar, İnan Kızılkaya, Zeki Erden, Elif Aydoğmuş, Bilir Kaya, Ersin Çaksu, Sevdiye Ergürbüz , Amine Demirkıran, Bayram Balcı and Burcu Özkaya (Özgür Gündem); Özgür Paksoy and Mesut Kaynar (DİHA); Gülfem Karataş and Gökhan Çetin (İMC TV).