Police violence against journalists escalating

Police violence against journalists escalating

One of the most infuriating cases regarding the grave list of violations we have come across in the Taksim Gezi park resistance and its aftermath is the violent police practice directly targeting journalists, regardless of whether they are local or international. The widespread use of excessive force against demonstrators is often directed toward journalists. 

It is not possible to fit in this column a breakdown of all the victims of police violence, which has caused injuries to scores of our colleagues and which has systematically been going on since May 30 when the incidents first erupted. However, we can say that one of the “peaks” was experienced last Saturday during incidents in Taksim.

According to the breakdown of the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC), during the incidents in Taksim around Saturday, 13 journalists were injured, while two were detained. According to the TGC statement, one journalist was clubbed even though he showed his press card. This is clear evidence showing “intention.” Injuries with plastic bullets, temporary blindness due to tear gas, injuries due to gas capsules, verbal insults and manhandling are among the others.

For example, a daily Milliyet photographer was manhandled by police. A TOMA (police vehicle with water cannon) was driven toward him. Halk TV reporter Makbule Cengiz was assaulted by police, causing bruises on her arms. Journalist Tuğçe Tatari was thrown to the ground, assaulted and insulted.

The vulgar use of the power of the police against journalists has also caused reactions in the international arena. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement of condemnation.

The notable side of the issue is that the situation of foreign journalists covering the incidents is not very different from that of Turkish journalists. The vast majority of representatives of leading newspapers and TV channels of the world assigned to Istanbul have been exposed to tear gas and water cannon during the incidents. One of the striking examples among them is from New York Times. Newly appointed Tim Arango’s skin was irritated after being exposed to water laced with chemicals in Taksim. The New York Times’ Istanbul correspondent Şebnem Arsu has been exposed to tear gas many times, including the capsules thrown inside the lobby of the Divan Hotel; she received treatment for two weeks because of corneal damage. New York Times photographer Ed Ou’s gas mask was removed by police exposing him to tear gas. Foreign journalists have frequently experienced police insults and ill-treatment. For example, CNN Istanbul correspondent Ivon Watson tweeted that police advanced toward him with swear words that cannot be repeated here. The traces of all of these acts further deepen the negative view that is forming about Turkey in the international press.

Doubtless, these practices of the police targeting journalists constitute a clear attack on freedom of the press. The visit of a joint delegation of the TGC and the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) on June 27 to Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu with messages that caution should be exerted about violence against journalists have proven not to have reached any ears among the police. This is clear, given the mercilessness witnessed on Saturday July 6.

Despite all initiatives and criticisms, the fact that police violence resulting in journalists becoming victims is continuing – forget about decreasing – increasingly shows that a serious warning has not been conveyed to the police in the field from higher levels.

When deterrence from the top does not come, this is probably interpreted by the police as a “green light,” resulting in advances on journalists.

We call on Interior Minister Muammer Güler to fulfill his duty in stopping these attacks against the press.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on July 10. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.