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Turkish journalists call on government to resign over press crackdown

ISTANBUL/ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/4/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Members of the media, trade unions and opposition parties demonstrate in Istanbul and Ankara against a crackdown on journalists, calling on the ruling party to ‘get your hands off the press.’ Several thousand people participate in the protests following the detention and raiding of homes of prominent journalists in connection with an alleged coup plot

Symbolically breaking their pencils and calling on the government to step down, several thousand journalists in Istanbul and Ankara held dual demonstrations Friday to protest recent crackdowns and police actions against some of their colleagues.

Members of labor unions, political parties and nongovernmental organizations joined hundreds of journalists in both cities, shouting slogans demanding press freedom.

The larger group was in Istanbul, where some protesters covered their mouths with black ribbons and others carried a giant Turkish flag down the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, İstiklal Avenue.

People watching the demonstration threw flowers from windows overlooking the street as protesters chanting slogans criticizing the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP: “AKP, get your hands off the press,” “Free press, free Turkey” and “A free press cannot be silenced.”

The protests were sparked by police raids Thursday of 16 homes in Ankara and Istanbul, including those of journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, as part of the Ergenekon case, an investigation into what authorities allege is a conspiracy to topple the government. The demonstrations were organized by the “Freedom for Journalists Platform,” which consists of 25 different press organizations.

Sixty-one journalists are currently held in prison and 88 have served time in jail since 2009, said Ercan İpekçi, the head of the Turkish Journalists’ trade union, who was among the protesters.

“Oppression of journalists has come to an insufferable point. Those who claim journalists are being detained or arrested not because of their journalistic activities but because of other crimes are basically committing the crime of ‘false accusation’ according to the Turkish Rule of Conduct,” İpekçi said.

The Ankara leg of the protests started in Kızılay’s Güvenpark, where journalists walked to the Justice Ministry building with a placard reading, “We are proud of advanced democracy, we have more press freedom than the United States,” sarcastically taking a jab at the Minister of Internal Affairs Beşir Atalay, who initially made that claim.

Journalists covered their mouths with black ribbons and snapped pencils during the peaceful protest organized by the G-9 platform including the Turkish Journalists Union, or TGS, the Progressive Journalists Association, and other media organizations.

The Ankara branch head of the TGS, Göksel Yıldırım, spoke in front of the Justice Ministry, recalling journalists who were murdered while in police custody.

Pointing to the long list of journalists taken into custody for writing about the Hrant Drink murder and the Ergenekon case, TGS head Yıldırım said the one thing they have in common is their opposition to the government. “This raises questions about the freedom of the press in Turkey,” Yıldırım said. He added that the journalists in custody are professionals respected both domestically and internationally for their success, and have shed light on many dark parts of Turkey’s history.

True democracy requires press freedom in accordance with international standards, Yıldırım said.

“If we do not stand together today and resist side by side, then we will be destroyed tomorrow,” G-9 platform spokesman Doğan Tılıç said in his speech. “These are not just for us or our co-workers, these cries are for democracy. Democracy cannot be mentioned in a country where journalists are silenced.

Also in attendance at the protest were some deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in addition to heads of other occupational unions.

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