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AEJ protests against new arrests of journalists in Turkey

The Turkish authorities, by carrying out the latest wave of arrests of a large number of journalists, have crossed a line which is rightly seen as ’out of bounds’ in any democracy. The allegations against those detained are serious and the burden of proof is now firmly on the authorities to produce evidence that the arrests were ordered for legitimate democratic and lawful reasons, and not simply to protect those in positions of high public office. If that evidence is not forthcoming, those who have been arrested must be freed at once.

Recent reforms in Turkey led to the release of scores of journalists from prison during 2014, so the new arrests amount to a grave backward step. Urgent action is needed to repeal or amend the country’s laws on terrorism, national security and defamation, and to ensure the independence of the judiciary and law-enforcement authorities.

Past events, including the government’s attempts to criminalise journalists and others following last year’s Gezi Park protests, show that those in power in Turkey are quick to treat even those who voice legitimate criticisms of politicians or who take part in peaceful protests as ’enemies of the state’. Through such patterns of behaviour Turkey has come to present the image of a land where a free press is censored at the government’s command, and where the law is used arbitrarily as an instrument to protect the regime from its legitimate critics. It is high time to correct this.

The government should heed the voices of those inside Turkey and abroad who urge the country’s law-enforcement and judicial authorities to act with the greatest care and restraint in all cases involving the right of freedom of expression, which Turkey is committed to respect under the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaty obligations. Turkey’s rulers would now be wise to step back from further actions which could lead to the country being found -- once again -- in serious violation of those obligations.

The Association of European Journalists protests in the strongest terms against the unlawful intimidation by state officials of journalists and other free voices in Turkey, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, backdoor pressures on media bosses, and unacceptable smear campaigns against those who seek to expose corruption and official abuses.

To restore its good name in the international community Turkey must release all the journalists and others who are detained or jailed because they have exercised their right to free expression. And it must heed the many voices of Turkey’s friends abroad who call on the government to honour in full its commitments to press freedom and allow the media and the public to hold executive power to account. That is the essence of democracy. The political landscape of Turkey today is far from that ideal.

Also, the international AEJ endorses the following Statement issued by the Turkish Freedom For Journalists Platform, which includes AEJ Turkey:-

“The detention of several Turkish journalists within the frame of an operation against the so called “parallel state” operation is an attack on press freedom and is not acceptable. It should be stopped and detained journalists should be released.

The media groups and journalists targeted and detained today have been working as a close ally of the government until recently. The operation against them proves that the government has no tolerance of anyone who defies its control and begins to criticize it.

The fact that the journalists detained today and their media were silent or even supportive before to the detention anad arrests of journalists such as Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener and Soner Yalcin cannot be a reason to stay silent against the treatment they are confronted with today.

Freedom of expression and press freedom should be defended under all conditions, and this operation is definitely a threat to every journalist and media that dare to criticize the government.

A free press cannot be silent, and a regime which silences the press and journalists cannot be called democratic.”