IFJ Condemns “Echo of Authoritarian Past” After Veteran Journalist is Held in Turkey

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed concern at the detention of a leading newspaper columnist in Turkey warning that the police action and raid on his house are echoes of of intolerance and authoritarianism still at work in Turkish politics.

Mr. Ilhan Selcuk, a veteran columnist of the nationalist daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, was taken into custody on Friday morning and released yesterday after a storm of criticism. For the past 15 years he has been accompanied by official bodyguards.

The arrest of the 83-year-old journalist took place amidst an investigation into the actions of nationalists who reportedly plotted unrest and political assassinations in Turkey in a bid to discredit and eventually topple the government. However, the IFJ says the arrest smacks of a crude attempt to intimidate critics at a time of rising political tension.

“This is a shocking reminder that for all the progress that has been made in defence of human rights in Turkey there are still attempts to silence critical voices,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Turkey may look towards Europe for its future, but arresting journalists is a powerful echo of its authoritarian past.”

The action and a number of other raids follow a move in the Constitutional Court last week to outlaw the ruling Justice and Development Party for undermining Turkey’s secular system.

An official investigation was launched in June after the discovery of explosives in an Istanbul house. Retired soldiers, journalists, lawyers and others are among 39 people who have so far been jailed, awaiting trial. Officials have made no statement on the investigation and prosecutors are yet to draw up an indictment to detail the charges and start a trial.

According to some reports in Turkish media police are investigating whether the suspects were involved in acts of political violence aiming to discredit the government, including the murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Reports claim some of the jailed suspects also planned to assassinate 2006 Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk, a pro-government journalist and several Kurdish politicians.

Selcuk’s newspaper Cumhuriyet issued a strong statement condemning his arrest: “Since our first issue published 84 years ago, we have been standing firm and defending the ideal of a democratic, secular, social and lawful Turkey. We shall never yield to such undemocratic and uncivilised pressures,” it said.

Further information: +32 2 235 2209 or 0032 478258669

The IFJ is the world’s largest journalists’ group with more than 600,000 members