Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the persecution of Turkey’s few remaining critical media outlets and calls for the immediate release of Oğuz Güven, the editor of the opposition daily Cumhuriyet’s website, who has just been jailed on a terrorism charge. He is the 12th Cumhuriyet employee to be imprisoned.
Güven is facing up to seven and half years in prison on a charge of “propaganda for the terrorist organization led by Fethullah [Gülen],” the US-based Turkish cleric accused by the government of masterminding the abortive coup attempt in July 2016.
He was placed in pre-trial detention on 15 May, three days after being taken into police custody. The grounds cited for the extremely grave charge against Güven, who has been a journalist for 32 years, is a single tweet that was posted on the Cumhuriyet Twitter account and was deleted after 55 seconds.
“The charge brought against Oğuz Güven is the height of absurdity and it is hard not to see it as an attempt to further undermine Cumhuriyet,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s representative in Turkey.
“The survival of the few remaining independent media outlets is at stake. The international leaders who are preparing to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at next week’s NATO summit cannot just look on while media freedom is annihilated in Turkey.”
Güven is blamed for a controversial tweet reporting that Mustafa Alper, the state prosecutor in the western province of Denizli, had died in a road accident. Alper was handling the trial of several well-known figures accused of being involved in the abortive coup.
When he appeared in court on 15 May, Güven told the judge that the tweet was a “mistake” and was “deleted within 55 seconds.” He added: “We reported the reactions to this tragedy in another article. I completely reject the accusations being made against me.”
Güven is currently being held in Metris prison in downtown Istanbul. But if the appeal filed by his lawyers fails to obtain his release, he will be transferred to Silivri prison, 70 km west of Istanbul, where 11 other Cumhuriyet employees have been held for months.
“There is not much more that can be done in the face of the current level of decay,” Güven said, referring to the justice system, as he was taken off to prison. No date has so far been set for his trial.
Ten detained Cumhuriyet journalists and administrators will complete their 200th day in Silivri prison tomorrow. To mark the event, journalists and civil society representatives will stage a demonstration at 11 a.m. outside the lawcourts in the Istanbul district of Çağlayan.
The other detained Cumhuriyet journalists include editor in chief Murat Sabuncu, columnist Kadri Gürsel and cartoonist Musa Kart. The investigative reporter Ahmet Şık has also been held since December 2016, although he was one of the first journalists to write critically about the influence of Gülen’s supporters within the state apparatus.
Their trial is due to start on 24 July. The journalists petitioned Turkey’s constitutional court, challenging the legality of their detention, but got no response, and they are now hoping for a quick ruling on their case by the European Court of Human Rights.
After the closure of more than 150 media outlets in the wake of the coup attempt, Cumhuriyet is one of the very few outlets that still
criticizes the Turkish government. As well as the imprisonment of 12 of its employees, there has been a concerted attempt to stifle it economically and an attempt to take control of its management.
Former editor Can Dündar, who is now living in exile in Germany, has been one of President Erdoğan’s bugbears ever since he revealed in 2015 that the Turkish intelligence services had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria. In Germany, Dündar has created a website called Özgürüz (We are free).
Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.