Turkey must act quickly to protect journalists after another is slain

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Turkish authorities to adopt urgent measures to guarantee the safety of journalists after local news website editor Güngör Arslan became the second journalist to be murdered in Turkey in the past 12 months amid an alarming increase in violence against media personnel by politicians and criminal groups.

The editor of the Ses Kocaeli website, Arslan, 60, was gunned down on 19 February inside his office in Izmit, a city 100 km east of Istanbul that is the capital of Kocaeli province. Prior to a radio presenter’s murder in March 2021, no journalist had been murdered in Turkey since 2009.

The police have arrested a 21-year-old youth, Ramazan Özkan, on suspicion of being hired to murder Arslan. They have also arrested nine other suspects, including Ersin Kurt, a lawyer who is said to have offered Özkan money to carry out the killing.

“This murder comes as no surprise to anyone because Güngör Arslan constantly received threatening messages without eliciting any reaction from the authorities, who failed in their duty to protect,” said Erol Onderoğlu, RSF’s representative in Turkey.

“The rapid arrest of ten suspects, including the suspected instigators, suggests that there could be an effective trial. We call for both perpetrators and instigators of this unacceptable crime to be punished severely and we will continue to follow this case closely. The government must act quickly so that journalists who are openly threatened receive the necessary protection and can work safely.”

Aslan had recently published a series of articles accusing Kurt of violating the law governing the professional conduct of lawyers by accepting an Izmit municipal contract. Kurt is close to the MHP, a nationalist party allied with President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). In social media posts, Aslan had repeatedly said that he felt threatened.

Disturbing spiral of violence

Verbal attacks and political hostility towards outspoken journalists have increased steadily in Turkey since the 2019 local elections, exacerbating the existing climate of impunity and encouraging those suspected of links to corruption to attack local reporters who cover corruption. 

The constant threats and pressure on the justice system from high-ranking personalities to arrest troublesome journalists have been pulling the country into a disturbing spiral of violence that is reverberating throughout Turkish society. Local journalists, who often live in the same neighbourhood as the people they are investigating, are easy targets and those who have received threats are not protected.

The journalist murdered in March 2021 was Hazım Özsu, 46, the presenter of a programme on Radio Rahmet FMin Bursa, a city 150 km south of Istanbul. He was gunned down by one of his listeners who did not appreciate his comments about “sacred values.” His alleged murderer, Halil Nalcaci, was arrested six days later.

Prior to Özsu, the most recent previous media murder victim was Cihan Hayirsevener, the news director of the local television channel Marmara TV and publisher of the newspaper Güney Maramara Yasam, who was shot three times as he walked down a street in Bandırma, a city 115 km west of Bursa, in December 2009. The perpetrators and instigators of his murder received long jail sentences.

Many of the 40 cases of journalists murdered or missing since the 1990s have gone unpunished, including the 20 or so cases reported in southeastern Anatolia between 1990 and 1996, at the height of clashes between the Turkish army and the Kurdish rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Turkey is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 14.03.2022