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Azeri journalist deported from Turkey for anti-government tweets

Mahir Zeynalov arrives at Geidar Aliyev Airport in Baku, 7 February 2014, after being expelled from Turkey by the authorities.
Mahir Zeynalov arrives at Geidar Aliyev Airport in Baku, 7 February 2014, after being expelled from Turkey by the authorities.

AP Photo/Today's Zaman

The deportation of the Azerbaijani journalist Mahir Zeynalov from Turkey is further proof of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s increasingly aggressive crackdown on independent media and freedom of expression, said the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS).

According to Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman, authorities decided to expel its journalist, an Azerbaijani national, Mahir Zeynalov after he posted anti-government tweets. The newspaper says Turkish Prime Minister (PM) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a complaint against Zeynalov for “defamation and inciting public to hatred”.

This latest act comes amid a recent resurgence of repression that has included disparagement of journalists, the use of pressure tactics to encourage self censorship, and the launching of criminal cases against reporters under broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Turkey had 40 journalists in prison as of Dec. 1, 2013, accounting for almost 20 per cent of all reporters jailed worldwide.

Freedom of expression online is of particular concern. This week, the AKP-dominated Turkish parliament approved a bill that would tighten government control over the Internet. The new law would allow Turkey's telecommunications authority to block websites without first seeking a court ruling.

Since December 2013, when a corruption scandal broke, stories that purportedly discredit public officials haves panned social media, raising speculations that the bill aims to prevent dissemination of any damaging information online. The Turkish PM has been openly critical of the internet, calling Twitter a "scourge" and condemning social media as "the worst menace to society".

IRFS resolutely condemns the harassment and legal persecution of Today's Zaman journalist Mahir Zeynalov amid a frantic media crackdown in Turkey.

IRFS urges PM Erdoğan and his government to accept criticism in the press and refrain from using criminal law against journalists. The charges against journalist Zeynalov must be dropped and all necessary conditions must be created for him to continue his journalism in Turkey, the organization said.

Finally, IRFS calls on the President Abdullah Gül to veto the amendments to the Law 5651 on the Internet as they violate the constitution and international conventions that Turkey has signed.

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