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IFEX members join thousands protesting detention of journalists

Journalists Nedim Şener (centre) and Ahmet Şık (facing camera, third from left) react as they arrive at a courthouse in Istanbul on 5 March 2011
Journalists Nedim Şener (centre) and Ahmet Şık (facing camera, third from left) react as they arrive at a courthouse in Istanbul on 5 March 2011

REUTERS/Ozan Guzelce/Milliyet/Handout

Thousands of people protested in Turkey on 4 March calling for an end to the repression of Turkish journalists in reaction to last week's detention of at least nine journalists and writers for their alleged links to the "Ergenekon" coup plots, report local IFEX members IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET) and the Initiative for Freedom of Expression (Antenna-TR), as well as other IFEX members.

Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were among seven journalists arrested and whose homes and offices were raided on suspicion of belonging to the underground, ultra-nationalist network Ergenekon, which prosecutors claim has plotted to overthrow the government. The organisation is nested within the state and the military.

Şık already faces prosecution for co-authoring a book about the investigations and trials in the Ergenekon case. Apparently, police also seized a draft manuscript of his latest work, a book about the police and connections to illegal Islamic networks in Turkey.

Şener, an investigative journalist for the daily "Milliyet", was tried and acquitted in 2010 for the book he had written on the murder of renowned Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, which blamed Turkish security forces for Dink's murder. He was given the 2010 Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression award and was also named an International Press Institute (IPI) World Press Freedom Hero last year.

In a letter from prison to his family and colleagues, published in "Milliyet", Şener claims that he was targeted by the government as far back as 2009, and perhaps even longer, reports BIANET.

"In the absence of evidence that the police have credible reason to think Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener are responsible for wrongdoing, their arrests are a disturbing development," said Human Rights Watch. "It raises concerns that what is now under investigation is critical reporting rather than coup plots."

The Ergenekon investigations, which have been continuing for years, are a pretext to neutralise opponents of the government, say the IFEX members. Since June 2007, more than 200 leading figures in the military, politics and police, as well as writers, academics and journalists, have been detained in connection with the Ergenekon plot, says the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International.

According to IPI, the recent raids and arrests were reportedly based on information discovered when Turkish police raided the homes of four journalists associated with dissident news website OdaTV last month and arrested three of the journalists. OdaTV was itself raided after posting a video criticising a police investigation into the plot, reports IPI.

Two other journalists, Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, have spent two years and two-and-a-half years in prison respectively during their ongoing trial on charges of Ergenekon membership, reports Human Rights Watch.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and other government officials have denied the investigations are politically motivated.

"These denials are just not credible," said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). "The authorities are clearly embarked on a campaign to discipline dissent and to stifle free speech in Turkey."

Štefan Füle, the commissioner responsible for enlargement of the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, issued a sharply worded statement about the detentions. "Turkey urgently needs to amend its legal framework to improve the exercise of freedom of the press in practice and in a significant manner," Füle said.

He said the European Union expected Turkey, as a candidate for membership, to put in place "core democratic principles and enable varied, pluralistic debate in public space."

According to EFJ, more than 60 journalists currently in Turkish jails for doing their job. Sign this postcard and join EFJ and the Turkish Journalists Syndicate in calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

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