Turkey Arrests Three Activists for Promoting “Terrorist Propaganda”

Reuters/Murad Sezer

Turkey Arrests Three Activists on Terrorism Charges: Turkey arrested three press freedom activists on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda” after they edited the Ozgur Gundem magazine, a newspaper that reports on Kurdish issues. The activists, Local Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative Erol Onderoglu, author Ahmet Nesin, and President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey Korur Fincanci, were ordered to be held in pretrial detention after they guest-edited the magazine and lobbied against its censorship. The three activists had joined a “solidarity campaign” with 50 other journalists to guest-edit the magazine for a day each. Ozgur Gundem is considered to be closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. Ankara has attempted to suppress critics of the current military campaign against the PKK in southeastern Turkey, and Ozgur Gundem has been subjected to dozens of investigations, fines, and arrests of journalists since 2014. Fincanci, who won the first International Medical Peace Award for helping the UN establish principles for detecting and documenting torture, defended her work, telling the court that all the articles in the issue that she edited “should be covered by the principles of freedom of thought and expression.” In addition to these arrests, Razi Canikligil, a member of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) who writes for the Turkish Hurriyet daily, was also arrested in a separate case. Canikligil was detained after a tweet demeaning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mistakenly attributed to him, and was released fourteen hours after his arrest.

Speaking at the State Department’s daily press briefing, Spokesperson John Kirby called the arrest of Onderoglu part of a “troubling trend,” and urged Turkey “to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in the Turkish constitution, which includes freedom of speech.” Meanwhile, the UNCA called Canikligil’s arrest “a grave violation of freedom of the press,” and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn criticized the court decision for going “against Turkey’s commitment to respect fundamental rights, including freedom of media.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the arrests as “an unbelievable low for press freedom in Turkey,” while Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the “spurious allegations” leveled against the journalists. Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Central Asia Director, said the arrests demonstrated that “Turkish authorities have no hesitation about targeting well-known rights defenders and journalists who have played a key role in documenting the sharp deterioration in human rights in the country.” International Press Institute Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said the case was “patently absurd and shows the lengths to which the government will go to silence anyone who dissents from or criticises its operations in south-eastern Turkey.” Freedom of expression in the Turkish press has been restricted under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Turkey is currently ranked 151 out of 180 on RSF’s World Press Freedom index.