Four more journalists face probe over ‘editor-in-chief on duty’ campaign for Turkish daily

Four more journalists face probe over ‘editor-in-chief on duty’ campaign for Turkish daily

Four more journalists face probe over ‘editor-in-chief on duty’ campaign for Turkish daily

AFP photo

Four more journalists are set to testify at a local court on June 27 over charges of “making terror propaganda” after supporting a solidarity campaign with Turkish daily Özgür Gündem, less than a week after the arrests of three campaigners sparked outrage from Turkish and international human rights advocates. 

Journalists Faruk Balıkçı, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Nadire Mater and Yıldırım Türker will appear before a court at the Çağlayan Courthouse in Istanbul at 10 a.m. on June 27 in order to testify in a probe launched against them for “making terror propaganda,” news portal Bianet has reported. 

They are charged over their reports during their one day of service as editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem as part of the daily’s “Editor-in-Chief on Duty” campaign.

Özgür Gündem has been repeatedly closed down in the past and is seen as being close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The daily started the campaign on May 3 to provide solidarity and defend press freedom against a number of investigations it has faced.

The report came less than a week after an Istanbul court ordered the arrests of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) head Prof. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu and journalist Ahmet Nesin on charges of “making terror propaganda” and sparked national and international criticism. 

A legal bid seeking the release of the three campaigners was rejected by a local court, media rights watchdog RSF said on June 25.  

“The request lodged on Thursday [June 23] for their liberty has been rejected,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire told Agence France-Presse.  

“It’s a punitive measure to have them detained and it’s another punitive measure to keep them there,” he said.     

On June 24, Deloire led a protest accompanied by a number of press groups outside the gates of Istanbul’s Metris Prison with demonstrators holding pictures calling for the trio to be released.

The case has stoked concerns over the state of basic freedoms in Turkey, with the United States expressing deep concern over “a troubling trend that we’ve seen in Turkey to discourage legitimate discourse and freedom of expression, freedom of the press.”  

“In a democratic society, we believe that critical opinion should be encouraged, not silenced. We believe democracies becomes stronger, not weaker, by allowing an expression of diverse voices within society and the actions and the work in the important efforts of independent journalists,” U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a June 23 press conference.  

In a statement released earlier this week, the watchdog said the arrests marked a new stage in Turkey’s crackdown on activists fighting for human rights.     

“The jailing of Önderoğlu, Nesin and Fincancı marks a new stage in the criminalization of human rights activism and the continuing decline in media freedom in Turkey, which is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index,” it said. 

Meanwhile, the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ-IFJ) condemned the arrests, calling them “unacceptable” and urging the government to immediately release the journalists.

A total of 44 prominent journalists - including Hasan Cemal, Şeyhmus Diken and Ayşe Düzkan - served as one-day editors-in-chief during the campaign. Some 37 of them have been investigated.