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The never-ending purge of Turkey's media

Carnations and copies of Cumhuriyet, an opposition secularist daily, are photographed in the Cumhuriyet newsroom in Istanbul, Turkey, 1 November 2016
Carnations and copies of Cumhuriyet, an opposition secularist daily, are photographed in the Cumhuriyet newsroom in Istanbul, Turkey, 1 November 2016

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 31 October 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the accelerating extinction of media pluralism in Turkey, with a police raid on Cumhuriyet, one of the last major opposition dailies, at dawn today, less than 48 hours after a decree dissolving 15 Kurdish media outlets, and with the Internet subject to long cuts in the southeast.

In the raid on Cumhuriyet, the police arrested at least 12 journalists and other employees including managing editor Murat Sabuncu, and confiscated the computers of two journalists, Turhan Günay and Hakan Kara, who were also arrested. Arrest warrants were issued for at least two other Cumhuriyet employees who are currently abroad.

Cumhuriyet is once again the target of persecution, another 15 media have been closed and there is hardly anyone left to cover this,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“If Turkey does not stop using the state of emergency to kill off media freedom it will soon be too late. At this rate, media pluralism will be a distant memory before long. Are people sufficiently aware of the dramatic change taking place in this country, where no media outlet seems to be safe from this never-ending purge?”

Cumhuriyet had established itself in recent years as one of Turkey's leading independent newspapers, winning the 2015 RSF-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize in the media category because of its fight for media freedom in an increasingly hostile environment and its courageous coverage of the most sensitive issues.

Former editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül have been sentenced to five years in prison for revealing details about Turkish arms deliveries to Islamist groups in Syria, and are facing an additional charge of “helping a terrorist organization.”

Another 15 media outlets dissolved

The last leading media outlets that support the Kurdish political movement were dissolved by decree on the evening of 29 October and their offices were quickly placed under seal. They include the DIHA and JINHA news agencies. They also include the dailies Azadiya Welat and Özgür Gündem, both of which had ceased to operate in August, when they were closed by force.

The closure of critical media by decree has become almost routine under the state of emergency that was declared on 20 July. A total of 102 media outlets were dissolved at the end of July, followed by a score of TV and radio stations at the start of October.

Internet cuts in the southeast

Internet access is meanwhile badly disrupted in southeastern Anatolia, where the population is mostly Kurdish. The problems began on 26 October, shortly after Diyarbakir's joint mayors, Gültan Kisanak and Firat Anli, were arrested, triggering a wave of protests. Initially covering ten cities, the Internet blackouts have been limited to Diyarbakir since the third day, according to the TurkeyBlocks website.

“The Internet in Diyarbakir is now like the water in the village where I was born, limited to two hours a day,” Mahmut Bozarslan, a correspondent for AFP, Voice of America and Al Monitor, said in a tweet on 27 October. He told RSF that the Internet cuts were the worst he had ever experienced.

“The cuts come when there are demonstrations against police operations, and prevent us from working and reporting these events for our media outlets,” he said on 28 October. Referring to the leader of the pro-Kurdish party HDP, he added: “The latest cut begun just before the news conference by [Selahattin] Demirtas and ended an hour afterwards, too late for us.”

Murat Güres , the managing editor of the Gaziantep-based daily Ayintab, told RSF that he was finding it extremely difficult to produce his newspaper because of the Internet cuts. The Internet was cut half an hour after the HDP issued a call for demonstrations on 26 October.

Nearly 700 journalists stripped of press cards

RSF learned yesterday that two leading journalists, Dogan Akin and Hasan Cemal, have had their press cards withdrawn by the General Directorate for Information and Media (BYEGM), an offshoot of the prime minister's office.

Akin is the editor of the T24 news website while Cemal is a T24 columnist and founder of the P24 NGO. He used to be a columnist for the newspaper Milliyet until fired in February 2013 after he criticized then Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Since the start of the state of emergency, the BYEGM has rescinding no fewer than 670 press cards, in most cases, the cards of journalists who worked for media outlets dissolved by decree.

Already ranked as low as 151st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey has experienced an unprecedented crackdown since the 15 July coup attempt and the ensuing imposition of a state emergency, which has been used to silence critics, close media, and strip journalists of press cards and passports. At least 130 journalists are currently jailed.

Read RSF's September 2016 report on Turkey: “State of emergency, state of arbitrary.”

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