Press Freedom in Turkey Disappearing

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By Zavig Mkrdech

Armenian Agenda

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The risks
to freedom of press in Turkey have worsened in recent months, leaving news
outlets and journalists helpless facing accusations of terrorism. Turkey has a
growing list of nearly 2,000 cases of journalists, academics, and others who
face trial and imprisonment for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan.

This week, a Turkish government-appointed
trustee committee decided to close down Zaman
Newspaper, Zaman.com.tr, Cihan News
Agency
, Cihan Media Distribution,
Küre.tv
, and Feza Publishing Group,
effective May 15, 2016. Turkish authorities took over Zaman and Cihan News Agency
in March, accusing these news outlets of supporting Fethullah Gülen, who openly
opposes Erdogan. A similar action was taken against the Ipek Group. All of its
platforms, Kanaltürk, Bugün TV, Bugün
Newspaper, Millet Newspaper
, and Kanaltürk
Radio
, are to close as well.

Opposition news agencies stand
no chance in the growing authoritarian climate of Turkey. They are often
accused of supporting the overthrow of the government, or of being too
sympathetic towards groups labeled terrorists, such as the Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK).  

As a result, government
propaganda against opposition news outlets is endangering journalists. Today, in
an assassination attempt against Turkish journalist Can Dundar, an assailant
fired three gunshots and yelled “traitor” at Dundar before being apprehended by
police.

Dundar, the Editor-in-Chief of Cumhuriyet, was previously arrested for
publishing a story in May 2015 of Turkey’s state intelligence agency, called MIT,
transporting weapons to Islamists in Syria. Infuriated, President Erdogan announced
that “Whoever wrote this story will pay a heavy price for this. I will not
let him go unpunished.” Erdogan then went on to file a lawsuit against Dundar and
Erdem Gul, the former Ankara Bureau Chief, in November 2015. Erdogan claimed the
video footage was a state secret, and by publishing it Cumhuriyet had engaged in an act of espionage. In a verdict decided
on May 6, the two Turkish journalists were sentenced to five years in prison on
charges of revealing state secrets, but acquitted of espionage charges.

“In the space of two hours we have experienced two assassination attempts: one was done with a gun, the other was judicial,” Dundar said, speaking in front of the court after the verdict was announced. “The [jail sentences] we received are not just to silence us. The bullet was not just to silence us. This was done to all of us, to scare us into silence, to make us stop talking. We all have to be courageous, despite all of this, and defend the freedom of the press and the freedom to information.”

In another case last month, the
Turkish court sentenced Cumhuriyet journalists
Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya to two-year jail sentences for reproducing the
cover cartoon of the Charlie Hebdo “Survivors Issue,” the first issue published
after the January 2015 attack on the Paris-based magazine. They were convicted
under article 216.1 of the criminal code of “inciting hatred and hostility” of
a religious nature by including small versions of the cartoon in their columns.

“Convicting Ceyda Karan and Hikmet
Cetinkaya is intolerable. Not only have these journalists never incited hatred
but, on the contrary, they were the leading victims of a violent campaign
unleashed against Cumhuriyet,”
Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire stated. “The
justice system seems to have legitimized this campaign by imposing
exceptionally harsh sentences. We urge the appeal court to overturn this
conviction on the constitutional grounds of freedom of expression.”

No wonder Turkey, now ranked
151st on the international press freedom index out of 180 countries, shows no
signs of succumbing to international or domestic pressure to limit its growing
restrictions on free press.

Photo Caption (L-R):  Cumhuriyet Ankara Bureau Chief

Erdem Gul and Editor-in-Chief Can Dundar

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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