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An "autocratic threat to freedom": How Turkey's state of emergency is silencing journalists

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This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 19 September 2016.

Two months after responding to a coup attempt by declaring a state of emergency, the Turkish government continues to target journalists, pluralism and freedom of information. RSF is today publishing a report that details the many abuses and urges the government to return to democratic principles.

Released on the day that Turkey completes its first two months under the state of emergency, the report analyses the frontal assault on media independence launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government.

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Declared on 20 July, the state of emergency allows the authorities to bypass the judicial system, although it is less independent than ever, and to curtail defence rights. Many journalists have been arrested and charged on spurious grounds and without evidence of their involvement in the coup attempt.

Those who are arrested can be held in police custody for up to 30 days and can be denied access to a lawyer during the first five days.

Taking advantage of the state of emergency, the government has also ordered the permanent closure of more than 100 media outlets, including newspapers, radio stations and TV channels, drastically curtailing pluralism, which had already been under attack.

The state of emergency has also enabled the authorities to impose arbitrary administrative sanctions (withdrawal of passports and press cards) with the aim of discrediting hundreds of journalists and preventing them from working freely.

“Instead of following the example set by the Turkish people, who resisted the putschists on 15 July and defended democracy, the Erdogan government has pursued an ever-broader offensive against freedom of information in Turkey,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“The government is using the state of emergency to jail journalists and close media outlets that supposedly supported its former Gülen movement allies, thereby flouting the most fundamental freedom of expression and opinion. But the state of emergency is also being used to attack all opposition media outlets.”

Proclaimed five days after the 15 July abortive coup d'état, the three-month state of emergency allows the authorities to govern by decree. They are going after anyone suspected of “links” with the Gülen movement, which was immediately declared to have been behind the would-be coup.

Hundreds of journalists – not only those working for pro-Gülen media but also for other media outlets critical of the government – have been arrested, questioned, charged or dismissed.

This report was written by RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, who was jailed for ten days in June for taking part, like many other leading Turkish media figures, in a campaign of solidarity with Özgür Gündem, a newspaper that defends Kurdish rights. It was summarily closed on 16 August under the state of emergency.

Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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