How the Dutch FM learned about the arrest of the Dutch journalist
I was at a lunch with the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Bert Koenders, along with two colleagues, at the residence of the Dutch Ambassador to Turkey, Ron Keller, when news broke about the detention of Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink in Diyarbakır.
Ahmed Dadou, the spokesperson of Minister Koenders, rushed into the dining room in a very anxious way to inform the minister, the ambassador, and the guests about the detention of Geerdink. “Terrorism police just searched my house, team of 8 guys. They take me to the station now. Charge: ‘propaganda for terrorist organization’,” read the tweet Geerdink posted at 1.33 p.m., leaving all of us in the room shocked.
Geerdink is a Dutch journalist living in Diyarbakır – she argues that she is the only foreign journalist based in the southeastern Anatolian town - and is known for her numerous pieces on the Kurdish question. Apart from compiling stories for various agencies and media outlets in the Netherlands, she is also running a blog under the title “Kurdish Matters.”
The astonishment could easily be read on Minister Koenders’ face, as he got the news precisely as the roundtable discussion was focused on the state of freedom of expression in Turkey and the importance of a free media for the democratic development of countries. “FM #Koenders: shocked by arrest of @fgeerdink. Will personally discuss this here in Ankara with my Turkish colleague Cavusoglu,” tweeted the Dutch Foreign Ministry in an immediate reaction on Jan. 6.
The lunch with Minister Koenders was an informal one and held in a brainstorming format. But it should not go unnoticed that the detention of Geerdink is a development that speaks for itself in regards to the state of free media in Turkey, as it took place on the very same day the Dutch foreign minister was in the Turkish capital to address the Turkish ambassadors gathered for their annual conference.
Koenders was invited by the Turkish Foreign Ministry as the guest of honor, along with other top international figures like the foreign ministers from Argentina and Nigeria, as well as Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO. They were all in Ankara to address the Turkish ambassadors, who were gathered for a conference titled “New Turkey: Continuity and Change in Foreign Policy.”
There's no doubt that Koenders raised the arrest of the Dutch journalist in his bilateral talks with both Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and EU Minister Volkan Bozkır late on the afternoon of Jan. 6, in the way that any foreign minister would do. After the talks, he was scheduled to deliver his statement to the Turkish ambassadors at around 9.00 p.m., after the Hürriyet Daily News went to print.
The development comes only three weeks after the police raided Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu TV and arrested top executives of the two media outlets on charges of terrorism links, sparking strong reactions from the European Union and the United States. The arrests of Ekrem Dumanlı (later released pending trial) and Hidayet Karaca further added more evidence to the deterioration of freedom of expression in Turkey, contrary to what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to depict.
In his long speech to the Turkish ambassadors, given at the same time Geerdink was being arrested, Erdoğan claimed that Turkey harbors the freest media in the world. Erdoğan also tasked Turkish ambassadors with the duty of standing against a growing smear campaign against Turkey carried out by the Western media and of nixing anti-Turkish propaganda.
A Turkish ambassador recently told me how their job had become more stressful and difficult, as they found themselves in a defensive position, just like in the 1990s. It also coincides with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s planned visit to various European capitals, including Berlin, London and Brussels, in January, where he is expected to seek ways to repair Turkey’s broken image. It’s also known that EU Minister Bozkır is working on a new freedom of expression package, which would be announced by PM Davutoğlu during his visit to Brussels in late January or early February.
It’s getting increasingly difficult every day for Turkish diplomats to explain the developments in Turkey to their counterpart in the West. It’s also getting more difficult for Turkey’s friends in Europe to insist on a continued engagement with Turkey, given the circumstances. Last but not least, it’s getting much more difficult for national and international journalists based in Turkey to do their job in a free, objective and brave way.