The ramifications of the recent failed coup in Turkey are still playing out, but it seems likely that the country’s already beleaguered news media will face even more repression and censorship in the days to come.
The coup, launched on the evening of July 15 by factions of the Turkish military, resulted in at least 290 people being killed – including a photographer for a pro-government newspaper who was gunned down by soldiers – and more than 1,000 injured. Images of the uprising – including shots of CNN’s sister network in Turkey being taken over – were broadcast live worldwide.
Since the government regained control of the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a massive purge of suspected plotters, rounding up thousands of soldiers, police officers and other officials.
The crackdown has also extended to the news media. The government blocked access to at least five news websites, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported. Some of the sites are supposedly sympathetic to the Hizmet movement, which the regime blames for the coup.
But in a sign of how sweeping the crackdown may become, some of the blocked websites are known for their editorial independence, and have even been critical of Hizmet.
Meanwhile, dozens of young men vandalized the offices of the newspaper Gazetem İstanbul. Security guards reportedly allowed the youths to enter the building after claiming that the paper supported the coup.
If the past is prologue, such harassment of the media seems likely to continue. Even before the coup, Erdogan had been cracking down on news outlets that were critical of his regime. In 2012 the CPJ reported that at least 61 journalists had been imprisoned in Turkey in retaliation for their reporting, and for two years running the country ranked as the world’s worst jailer of journalists.
This campaign to muzzle the press has only intensified since then, with Erdogan’s regime banning news coverage of certain topics, harassing journalists on such specious charges as insulting the president, and pressuring publishers to spike critical stories.
The situation grew more alarming in late 2015 when the government began taking over privately owned news outlets and invoking broad anti-terrorism laws to justify widespread arrests of journalists.
Early this year, Turkish police armed with tear gas and water cannons raided the headquarters of Zaman, the country’s largest newspaper and one linked to a moderate opposition cleric.
The advocacy group Freedom House reported that press freedom in Turkey “deteriorated at an alarming rate in 2015. The government… aggressively used the penal code, criminal defamation legislation, and the country’s antiterrorism law to punish critical reporting, and journalists faced growing violence, harassment, and intimidation from both state and nonstate actors.”
Censorship, the report added, “occurs both offline and online. Sensitive topics include Kurdish issues, the Armenian genocide, and subjects deemed offensive to or critical of Islam or the Turkish state. Enforcement of the relevant laws is arbitrary and unpredictable…”
In the wake of the coup, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova urged the Turkish government “to allow journalists to report on news events freely and independently, and to do their utmost to guarantee the safety and security of all journalists.”
Ironically, it was announced Monday that a Turkish newspaper editor who was sentenced to nearly six years in prison after reporting that the country’s intelligence service sought to funnel weapons to Syrian opposition groups was among the winners of the 2016 International Press Freedom Awards.
Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, was sentenced on charges of revealing state secrets, espionage, and aiding a terrorist group. He remains free on appeal. He is one of four journalists recognized in the annual awards.
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