Turkey: Turkish journalists from former Zaman Media Group ask IFJ/EFJ for assistance during climate of fear

Three Turkish journalists from Zaman Media Group were at the IFJ/EFJ offices on Friday 29 July to seek international help in response to the current media crackdown in Turkey. The journalists included Selçuk Gültaşlı, a correspondent for former Zaman Media Group in Belgium, Sevgi Akarçeşme, editor-in-chief for former Today’s Zaman, and Mete Öztürk, editor-in-chief of former Zaman Belçika and Zaman Vandaag. Since the attempted coup, the number of arrest warrants delivered against journalists in Turkey has grown to 89. The IFJ/EFJ has registered over 60 journalists detained. The newspaper, ZAMAN, and its English version Today’s Zaman were among the first media outlets to be closed down by Erdogan’ government on 28 July. At the Friday meeting, Sevgi Akarçeşme told the IFJ/EFJ about her timely escape from Turkey in March before authorities issued a warrant for her arrest. She was due to fly to New York this week to start a one year academic programme at Cuny, but the Turkish government has cancelled her passport. She currently has one year permanent residency in Belgium.  Sevgi said that her ‘biggest concern is the security and well-being of colleagues who are still in Turkey’.   Sevgi’s family was investigated after the arrest warrant was issued against her and her house was raided by the police. Communication in Turkey with family members of journalists who have been targeted by government authorities is risky. Turkish police are reported to randomly check Whatsapp accounts and downloading encryption software immediately makes the message recipient a target for investigation. Sevgi admitted that the entire experience has made her ‘feel like a Jew under Nazi rule’. All three journalists strongly condemned the attempted coup in the strongest possible terms and emphasised that although they strongly criticised the government and President Erdoğan's increasingly authoritarian style of governance, they believed 'the government came with ballot box and should go with ballot box'. Selçuk Gültaşlı also expressed great concern for his colleagues still in Turkey and those journalists who are already behind bars. One of his colleagues who was arrested after the coup, has not been heard from for over 15 days. Selçuk said the lack of communication from those detained was ubiquitous, referencing many examples of family members who hadn’t heard from their loved ones for several days. All three journalists admitted to receiving death threats and hate messages on social media. They claim president Erdogan has been employing members to troll social media and harass journalists like themselves. They have been called traitors of the country and are accused of being a part of FETÖ, the terrorist organisation headed by Fethullah Gülen, that is accused of enacting the coup attempt. This organised propaganda has created a domino effect, enlisting common citizens to attack the journalists on social media as well.   Selçuk and Mete say they have even been attacked by Turkish people residing in Belgium, suggesting the hate speech is spreading to the rest of Europe too.   The journalists believe the climate of hate will only worsen as it becomes impossible for the average Turkish citizen to receive information not laden with propaganda. ‘Even neighbours are calling the police against people now,’ Selçuk lamented. Getting out of Turkey remains difficult for journalists with increased surveillance at the border and journalist passports cancelled. Many journalists have gone into hiding. Lawyers in Turkey are refusing to support journalists in their legal cases as they fear they could also be subjected to further arrests. The meeting on Friday confirmed that the protection and security of Turkish journalists should be the IFJ and EFJ’s top priority in the face of Turkey’s media crackdown. The federation are questioning the poor reaction of the European Union and the United Nations on Turkey’s deliberate attacks on human rights and democracy. They have launched a campaign to support Turkish journalists and have asked their affiliates to take a stand.  A special fund is now available through the IFJ safety fund to support individual cases.

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