Syrian TV anchor and director arrested in Turkey after racist insults by guest
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a Turkish guest’s racist verbal attacks on a Syrian TV channel’s presenter during an interview last week in the channel’s studio in Istanbul and the subsequent arrest of the presenter and his director by the Turkish authorities, who held them for nearly 48 hours.
The scene was shocking. When Orient News TV channel presenter Ahmad Rihawi asked his guest, Turkish political analyst Oktay Yilmaz a question about Turkish police violence against Syrian refugees at the border between Syria and Turkey, Yilmaz responded with a wave of racist accusations and insults against Rihawi, triggering an argument that ended with Yilmaz snatching Rihawi’s notes and tearing them up, knocking over his glass of water in the process. “By what right do you attack Turkey and its people,” he said on camera.
The fact that this extraordinary argument took place on the air, and that Rihawi reacted coolly and professionally to Yilmaz’s insults, did not deter the Turkish police from arresting Rihawi and the TV channel’s director, Alaa Farhat, in response to a complaint by Yilmaz. They were finally released 48 hours later after the Turkish justice system rejected the complaint.
“The racist verbal attacks and acts of intimidation towards Ahmad Rihawi are in themselves reprehensible but the fact the journalist and his director, Alaa Farhat, were then arrested is completely outrageous. While we welcome their release by the justice system, we deplore their arrest on the basis of nothing more than an unfounded complaint. Such an arbitrary arrest should never have taken place and constitutes a threat to press freedom.
In response to the complaint that Yilmaz filed after leaving the Orient News studio – accusing them of offense against the state, RSF’s sources said – Rihawi and Farhat were taken to the immigration department and from there they were transferred to the Istanbul General Security Directorate. They were released two days later when the complaint was dismissed.
Appearing live on Orient News later the same day, Rihawi and Farhat thanked all those who had supported them. “These judicial battles, this racism and these gag attempts are not new,” said Rihawi, wrapped in the Syrian flag. “But we will not cease to report what people are saying.” Orient News called for Yilmaz to be held responsible for his “verbal and physical attack against Ahmad Rihawi.”
The attack comes at a time of growing hostility and xenophobia towards Syrians in Turkey that pose a threat to the safety of journalists. Two Syrian journalists were threatened with expulsion in January and one ended up being expelled after his arrest by the Turkish authorities.