RSF condemns “witchhunt” against journalists in Turkey

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the purge against Turkey’s news media, which continues to assume increasingly alarming proportions ten days after an abortive coup d’état. At dawn today, the anti-terrorism police added 47 new names to the already long list of wanted journalists

The new wanted notices were issued on the basis of arrest warrants authorized by an Istanbul prosecutor. Those named (complete list here) are former employees of Zaman, a daily that used to support the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose followers are now accused of being behind the coup attempt.

Warrants for the arrest of 42 journalists had already been issued as part of the investigation into the Gülen Movement. The score of already detained journalists include the columnist Şahin Alpay, former Zaman editorial writer Nuriye Akman, well-known TV presenter Nazlı Ilıcak and former Hürriyet journalist Bülent Mumay.

“It is hard to believe that these increasingly extensive roundups are being carried out with the sole legitimate aim of unmasking those behind the coup and their accomplices,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“We regret having to reiterate that criticizing the government and working for media outlets that support the Gülen Movement do not constitute evidence of involvement in the failed coup. If the authorities cannot produce more credible evidence, they are guilty of persecuting people for their opinions and that is unacceptable.”

Zaman had backed the Gülen Movement and had been very critical of the government for several years until placed under judicial control in March, when police stormed its headquarters and all of its employees were immediately fired. Thereafter, it adopted a pro-government editorial policy, lost most of its readers and ended up being closed down.

Many precedents show that Turkey’s judicial authorities often work on the basis of ideological association, accusing journalists of belonging to an armed organization if it can be claimed that their views resemble the positions espoused by the organization.

In December 2011, 36 media workers were arrested as part of an investigation into the banned Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK). Many other journalists were placed in detention from 2008 to 2013 on suspicion of being part of an alleged ultra-nationalist network called “Ergenekon.”

In both cases, no hard evidence was ever produced and the journalists ended up being released after long periods of provisional detention, in some cases lasting more than four years.

Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 27.07.2016