Turkey: RSF urges the judiciary to ensure justice for the murder of journalist Güngör Arslan
As the trial opens in the murder case of journalist Güngör Arslan, RSF calls on the Turkish judiciary to shed light on this horrific crime and ensure all perpetrators are held to account. In Turkey, where two journalists were killed within just 12 months, authorities must take immediate steps to end impunity and prevent the continued increase of violence against media personnel by politicians and criminal groups.
On 6 September, the first hearing was held in the murder trial of Ses Kocaeli website editor Güngör Arslan, 60, who was gunned down on 19 February 2022 inside his office in Izmit, a city 100 km east of Istanbul that is the capital of Kocaeli province. Arslan was the second journalist murdered in Turkey within the space of just 12 months. Prior to a radio presenter’s murder in March 2021, no journalist had been killed in connection with their work in Turkey since 2009.
“We strongly condemn the murder of Güngör Arslan and the alarming overall increase in violence against media personnel in Turkey. We urge the judiciary to shed light on all aspects of this murder and ensure that Arslan’s killers are brought to justice without delay. We also call on the Turkish authorities to take immediate steps to end impunity for such crimes and improve the climate for safety of journalists working throughout the country.
Following Arslan’s murder, police identified 14 suspects, including 21-year-old hitman Ramazan Özkan, and Ersin Kurt, a lawyer who is said to have offered Özkan money to carry out the killing. Ten of the suspects were arrested under charges of 'deliberate murder by design,' instigating murder, aiding murder, and favouring the criminal or concealing evidence.
The first hearing in the case, which had been accepted in June, was held at the Kocaeli 1st High Criminal Court. The court decided to release four of the 10 detained defendants. Arslan's wife, Suna Arslan, said: “Güngör Arslan was just a journalist. He was writing about all the connections in this city. The only thing I want to say is, this is a journalist’s murder. There are some other people behind the scene.”
Arslan 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 Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). In social media posts, Arslan had repeatedly reported feeling threatened.
Constant threats and pressure on the justice system
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.
Constant threats and pressure on the justice system from high-ranking personalities to arrest critical 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 neighborhood as the people they are investigating, are easy targets, and those who have received threats are not protected.
Before Aslan’s killing, the last murder of a journalist in Turkey, in March 2021, was Hazım Özsu, 46, the presenter of a programme on Radio Rahmet FM in 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, news director of 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 Bandirma, a city 115 km west of Bursa, in December 2009. The perpetrators and instigators of his murder received long jail sentences.
Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.