On Freedom of Press in Turkey and the Arrest of Three Intellectuals in Solidarity with the Daily Özgür Gündem

img_20151116_152354.jpgThe 2016 World Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 151 in a list of 180 states. This devastating record only worsens day by day: On 20 June 2016, the Turkey Representative of Reporters without Borders, journalist Erol Önderoglu, was detained along with Prof. Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, an internationally acclaimed human rights activist and leading expert on forensic medicine, as well as Ahmet Nesin, a journalist.

In what is the latest example of the AKP government’s policy of suppressing press freedom, these three public intellectuals have been detained because they have expressed solidarity with the newspaper Özgür Gündem, which has been constant target of state. Since it was founded on 14 May 1992, this newspaper has been subject to continuous violations of press freedom by all Turkish governments to date because it has been critically reporting on the Kurdish conflict and documenting anti-democratic measures in Turkey. In April 1994, it was closed down after a court ruling. Twenty-seven staff members of Özgür Gündem, including journalists, distributers and writers were killed in the first two years, mostly by extrajudicial killings. Out of the 580 published editions of the newspaper, 486 were hit with law-suits that resulted in 147 years of prison sentences against staff members. After a forced break of 17 years, the newspaper was published again on 4 April, 2011.

Since the negotiations for a democratic and political solution to the Kurdish conflict have been terminated, the pressure on the newspaper staff have increased, as have arrests. The editors-in-chief of Özgür Gündem, Eren Keskin and Reyhan Capan, received prison sentences of three years and nine months on 21 May 2016 based on the allegations of “distributing terrorist propaganda”.  In protest of the government’s curtailing of the freedom of expression and the assaults against the newspaper, journalists and intellectuals have started a solidarity campaign since the verdict against the editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem was issued. Each day, one journalist or public intellectual has been acting as the editor-in-chief on duty. Due to their participation in this solidarity campaign, on 20 June 2016 three leading human rights defenders have been detained, once again on charges of  “distributing terrorist propaganda”. Internationally acclaimed human rights defender Prof. Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, who is the President of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, has been arrested, and has been subject to solitary confinement. Prof. Dr. Korur Fincanci is the recipient of the first International Medical Peace Award  (2011) for her contributions to the documentation of human rights abuses. Along with Korur Fincanci, Mr. Erol Önderoglu, who is the Turkey Representative of Reporters without Borders, as well as Mr. Ahmet Nesin, a journalist, have been also arrested.

This is another violation of the freedom of press and freedom of expression in Turkey, with which the AKP leadership seeks to suppress any democratic opposition to their reign. In light of this latest example of the AKP regime`s unlawful and limitless assault against any form of dissent, we call upon the international public to stand in solidarity with all the forces struggling for democracy and freedom in Turkey.

Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ

HDP Co-Chairs

23 June 2016

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