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Turkish police injure, detain journalists covering protest

Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns violence against journalists by the Istanbul police during the past few days. At least six journalists were attacked on May Day and another three women journalists were harassed during a demonstration on 5 May.

“Journalists should not have to pay for the current social tension in Turkey,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the Istanbul police to carry out full and impartial investigations in order to identify and punish the police officers responsible for these abuses, because impunity just encourages more violence.

“The role of the police as regards journalists should be to protect them while they doing their work. The police should also remember that journalists are not supposed to be police auxiliaries and that the confidentiality of their sources must be respected.”

The latest case of police violence towards journalists occurred on 5 May when police dispersed demonstrators who wanted to march to Taksim Square to commemorate three young revolutionaries who were executed in 1972. All demonstrations are currently banned in the square on the official grounds that works are underway to pedestrianize it.

Diha news agency reporters Rojda Korkmaz and Sevdiye Ergürbüz and the recently released journalist Zeynep Kuray were covering the dispersal of the demonstration when police officers demanded that they surrender the photos and video they had shot. Korkmaz refused, only to be handcuffed and dragged along the ground.

One of the policemen slapped her when she shouted: “You will not be able to silence the free press.”

The three women were then led to a police bus where the police insulted them, checked whether they had police records, and finally released them. When they demanded to know the identity of the police officer who had manhandled Korkmaz, the senior police officer present said: “Just leave and report whoever you want.”

At least six journalists were injured while covering clashes between demonstrators and police officers in and around Taksim Square on the morning of 1 May. A major police presence had previously been established in the adjoining neighbourhoods of Beyoglu, Sisli and Besiktas in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from getting to the square.

Several journalists told Reporters Without Borders they were prevented from circulating freely in these neighbourhoods, even when they showed their press cards. Reporters Without Borders' correspondent was initially prevented from going to the square.

Güray Öz, a reporter for the left-wing daily Birgün, sustained a head injury during a police operation in Besiktas as demonstrators were already beginning to disperse. The injury needed three stitches.

“As I was taking photos, the police targeted me with their water canon,” he told colleagues as he was getting into an ambulance. “They continued (…) even after I said I was a journalist. Then they dragged me along the ground.”

Cihat Arpacik, a reporter for the Islamist daily Yeni Safak, also sustained a head injury as he was fleeing police using water canon. Fatih Yersiz, a cameraman with the national television station Ülke TV, was hospitalized after injuring his leg in the district of Sisli. Doctors put a plaster on the leg. Zeki Günal of the Dogan News Agency (DHA) was hit in the head and arm by thrown stones.

Mesut Gengeç, a cameraman for the national TV station Sky360, and Ercan Öztürk, a reporter for the daily Aksam, were also injured. Dilek Odabasi, a reporter for the Alevi community television station Cem TV, was arrested in Tarlabasi, a neighbourhood that is part of the district of Beyoglu, and was released after being taken to Istanbul security headquarters.

Excessive police use of tear gas obstructed the work of dozens of journalists although many of them wore gas masks. TV reporters were at times unable to do stand-ups in Sisli and Besiktas because of trouble breathing. Tear gas also seeped into the headquarters of the daily Birgün, located in the district of Mecidiyeköy, when police fired grenades towards it.

Apologising for restricting the public's freedom of movement, Istanbul's prefect reported at the end of the day that 25 people had been injured and 75 arrests were made. The excesses recall those of May Day 2008 and 2009, when many cases of police violence against journalists were also reported. They were never punished.

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