Turkish journalists arrested for reporting Covid-19 cases

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns arrests of journalists covering the Covid-19 epidemic in Turkey, where the authorities have been tightening their grip on information since the start of the epidemic.

Official information about the epidemic is proving very partial in Turkey and only the public health ministry is providing statistics about the spread of the virus. Several local journalists have been arrested and charged after publishing information about cases of infection in their region.

In the northern province of Bartin, Mustafa Ahmet Oktay, the owner of the newspaper Pusula (Compass), and his editor, Eren Sarıkaya, were arrested on 18 March after reporting that a doctor had tested positive to the coronavirus. 

The judicial authorities accused them of “sowing panic and fear” under article 213 of the penal code and of not waiting for official information, a requirement imposed by the local authorities, before publishing anything about the epidemic. The two journalists are facing the possibility of between two and four years in prison.

Night-time arrests

In the southern province of Antalya, the editor of the news website Haberimizvar.net (News for You), Idris Özyol, and one of his reporters, Ebru Küçükaydin, were arrested in the middle of the night of 13 March and were taken before the local prosecutor’s office because of an article about a coronavirus case in Demre, one of the province’s towns. The article was subsequently deleted from the site.

Ismet Çiğit, the news director of the news website Kocaeli Ses (Kocaeli Voices), was arrested at his home in Kocaeli, a city near Istanbul, on the night of 21 March after publishing an article headlined, “Two coronavirus-linked deaths in Derince hospital.” His editor, Güngör Arslan, also spent the night in the police station. Mesut Akbulut, the editor of the Kocaeli newspaper, was briefly detained two days before that for mentioning another coronavirus case in the city.

In the western city of Izmir, Tugay Can, a reporter for the Iz Gazete website, was summoned by the local security directorate’s cyber-crime section on 26 March for reporting two new cases of Covid-19 among the city’s medical personnel.

Two journalists in the eastern province of Van, Oktay Candemir and Rusen Takva, were summoned for questioning by the police simply for sharing Covid-19 information on social media.

“The local media are among the leading collateral victims of the coronavirus in Turkey,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu said. “The authorities were already harassing outspoken media outlets. Now local journalists, the leading witnesses of the public health crisis in the field, are also being undermined, at a time when the public’s right to information is crucial.”

Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 11.05.2020