Two advocacy groups, NY based Committee to Protect Journalists, and DC based Freedom House, on Wednesday sounded an alarm about the arrests of more than a dozen Turkish journalists since the weekend, and the shutting down of dozens of media outlets by the Turkish government. The move was given a single, unified reasoning: all these individuals and outlets are accused of being affiliated with dissident Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who is living in exile in Philadelphia but, according to the Edrogan government was behind the recent military coup attempt.
CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Nina Ognianova told the Voice of America: “We’re obviously extremely concerned about the developments, particularly against journalists, but this sort of behavior from the government is nothing new. For months, the Turkish authorities have gone after journalists who were critical of their policies. It’s escalated now and in the post-coup period.”
News outlets in Turkey reported on Wednesday that the Turkish government had ordered the closing of 45 newspapers, 23 radio stations, 16 TV channels and three news agencies. An Istanbul prosecutor issued detention warrants for 47 former employees and executives of Zaman, a media group accused of links to Gulen.
Journalist and former parliamentarian Nazlı Ilıcak, who was on the Zaman detention warrant, was arrested in the Bodrum district of the Aegean province of Mugla early on July 26. She was pulled out of her car and taken to the Bodrum Police Station, and then sent to Istanbul for legal actions.
Five other journalists: Yakup Sağlam, İbrahim Balta, Seyit Kılıç, Bayram Kaya and Cihan Acar, have also been detained so far, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Freedom House official Nate Schenkkan told VOA that unofficial lists circulating on pro-government social media sites suggest at least 150 other journalists could be targeted, many of whom may have no ties to Gulen.
State Department spokesman John Kirby voiced the US concern about press freedom in Turkey: “I think we’d see this as a continuation of … a troubling trend in Turkey where official bodies, law enforcement and judicial, are being used to discourage legitimate political discourse.”
The crackdown on Turkish media dates back to December 2013, when Turkish prosecutors launched a massive corruption investigation of associates of then-Prime Minister Erdogan, which resulted in a government backlash and mass arrests of journalist. Since 2013, Freedom House has set Turkey’s press freedom status a at 71 out of 100, with 100 being the worst. This shameful score is certainly going to be increased soon.