International Call for Freedom for Arrested Turkish Journalists
4 May 2011 – Representatives of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the World Association of Press Councils (WAPC), the World Editors Forum (WEF), the International Press Institue (IPI), Reporters without Borders(RSF), the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) came together in Istanbul on the World Press Freedom Day on 3 March for the Congress on Freedom for Journalists.
The participants agreed that the struggle for journalists in Turkish prisons was an encouraging signal for other countries where press freedom was experiencing a pullback.
The congress was organized by the Turkish Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP). In respect to arrests of journalists like Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener and also considering the effect of prosecutions based on news items and further oppressions against journalists, the participants defined the judicial practices as a problematic area and pointed to the government in this aspect.
Un-detained defendants and relatives or close friends of detained defendants had their say as well.
Philippe Leruth, Deputy Head of the EFJ, indicated that European countries like Hungary and France constituted examples for the tendency of a setback in press freedom for journalists.
“The press is the temperature gauge for a democracy. Yet, it does not help to break the temperature gauge because the democracy is not doing well”, Leruth said.
Javier Fernandez Arribas, Vice President of the AEJ, remarked that the government and the judiciary were used to suppress press freedom in Turkey. Arribas emphasized the need for an infrastructure that would enable the media to steer itself.
WAPC Secretary General Chris Conybeare called the more than 200 participants of the congress for a minute of silence to commemorate the journalists all over the world who lost their lives while practicing their profession. Conybeare reminded that in 1997, Turkey was the country with the highest number of arrested journalists. Targets set in 2004 fuelled great optimism for Turkey but in the present situation this optimism could not be preserved, he declared.
“The journalists should be released on bail or by other means. They have to be given the right to defence regarding the allegations brought up against them”, the WAPC representative claimed.
Chairman of the WEF board and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Erik Bjerager, said, “Journalists in Europe are not arrested for the work they do. Turkey has to improve its record”.
IPI press freedom advisor Steven Ellis underlined that arrested journalist Nedim Şener continued his efforts to gather and share information on the background of the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink despite the threats Şener had received.
Johann Bihr, head of the RSF European Desk, mentioned that press freedom in France has been on the decline for some time but in Turkey “massive violations bound to paranoiac and authoritarian applications” were being encountered. Bihr said that the arrest of journalist Ahmet Şık created a big stir in Paris. He also expressed the expectation to have the Dink murder case solved.
Mirjana Tomic from SEEMO conceded that she was not too familiar with the situation in Turkey in particular. Referring to the Balkan countries that are anticipating their accession to the European Union, Tomic highlighted the fact that the mafia is threatening press freedom regarding to labour and politics.
OSCE Media Freedom Representative Dunja Mijatovic pointed out that problems in Turkey stem from a lack of freedom to criticize the government, which is a problem encountered in other countries as well, and from the fear felt towards different opinions.
“I will continue my struggle at non-governmental organizations and before governments. Data bases on arrested journalists must be updated. There are positive indicators that the authorities are going to respond to our call. I am going to keep you informed about the developments”, Mijatovic said.
The OSCE representative announced to share the problems of press freedom in a meeting with the European Commission on Thursday (5 May). “You are not alone, we are with you”, she stressed.