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SERKAN DEMİRTAŞ >Italian, French journos released; how about Turkish colleagues?

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French photojournalist Mathias Depardon was freed and deported on June 9, after a month of captivity without any official charges. When he was stopped by the police on May 8, Depardon was taking pictures in the Hasankeyf district of the southeastern Anatolian province of Batman on an assignment for National Geographic. 

It was very good news to hear that Depardon could regain his freedom and return to his family and friends in France at a time when Turkish prisons are still home to hundreds of journalists. 

Depardon’s arrest and release bear a resemblance to the case of Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande, who was released after nearly three weeks in custody in Hatay, on the Syrian border, while working on a book on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In the eyes of security forces, both journalists were believed to be conducting suspicious activities under the guise of a journalist in Turkey’s most sensitive areas. Both men went on a temporary hunger strike in a bid to attract international attention to their case with concerns that they might have been arrested as a result of persecution. 

As a matter of fact, before Depardon and Del Grande, a Turkish-German journalist, Deniz Yücel was also detained and arrested on charges of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Yücel has been in prison since February.

All three journalists are from prominent European Union countries where freedom of expression, among other fundamental freedoms, are valued and protected as far as possible. The difference is the level of bilateral relations of all these three countries with Turkey. France and Italy share good relations with Turkey while the bilateral record with Germany is far from friendly. 

Both French and Italian authorities, at the highest level, contacted their Turkish counterparts for the release of their journalists with national and international press associations exerting efforts to the same end. 

Like his Italian fellows, French President Emmanuel Macron raised Depardon’s issue with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan twice and reportedly pledged to thank him for the release of the French journalist. 

It’s important to recall that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had accused some European foreign services of recruiting journalists for espionage operations especially in southeastern Anatolian provinces and had implied that Depardon was one of them, as he was caught while taking pictures of military facilities. 

Following his return to France, Depardon told reporters “I think the idea was to send a strong message to foreign and Turkish journalists who are intending to cover news in southeast Turkey,” depicting a sad reality. 

On Yücel’s case, however, things are much more complicated. He has frequently been accused by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of being a pro-PKK journalist and of supporting terrorists. In response to insistent demands from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Erdoğan used Yücel’s case to highlight Germany’s unwillingness to cooperate against terrorism by frequently noting that around 4,500 of Turkey’s extradition demands have yet to receive a reply.

As a result, one can now place Yücel’s case on the long list of subjects of disagreement between Ankara and Berlin. 

Of course, we are talking about three different cases against three journalists, and it’s not up to this column to put itself in the position of a court. However, these cases on foreign journalists and how the government responds to the calls of these countries are sufficient enough to increase concerns about the highly politicized judiciary. 

This point is critically important for Turkish journalists who have been deprived of their liberties for months on unreasonable charges. It’s our mere wish that the government should use its weight and influence, if it has any, to secure the release of our colleagues.

June/14/2017

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