Top journalists, cartoonists and world-renowned artists have joined a campaign to demand the release of more than 120 journalists jailed in Turkey following last summer’s coup attempt and an end to the ruthless crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. The campaign, which has attracted 250,000 supporters since February, will see protests in cities around the world timed to coincide with World Press Freedom Day and the publication of an Amnesty International briefing, Journalism is not a crime: Crackdown on media freedom.
“A large swathe of Turkey’s independent journalists are languishing behind bars, held for months on end without trial, or facing prosecution on the basis of vague anti-terrorism laws. Today our thoughts are with all journalists who are imprisoned or facing threats and reprisals, but our particular focus is on Turkey where free expression is being ruthlessly muzzled. We call on Turkey’s authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists jailed simply for doing their job,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
Since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, at least 156 media outlets have been shut down and an estimated 2,500 journalists and other media workers have lost their jobs. Journalists have been arrested and charged with terrorism offences as a result of posts they have shared on Twitter, cartoons they have drawn or opinions they expressed. This is taking place within the context of a wider crackdown against perceived government critics which has seen 47,000 people remanded in prison and more than 100,000 public sector employees summarily dismissed.
Journalist Mahir Kanaat was arrested with six colleagues on Christmas day. “My hands were tied behind my back and a ‘special team’ [police officer] was on top of me. I shouted ‘my wife is nine months pregnant, why are you making her lay down’ and tried to get up. There was a scuffle, I was kicked in the face.” Mahir Kanaat’s wife gave birth to their son while he was in detention. He is still in prison awaiting trial.
Lengthy periods of pre-trial detention have become routine. Charges levelled against media workers are often trumped up, sometimes patently absurd or wholly lacking any evidence of an actual criminal offence. Former newspaper editor Ahmet Altan was detained in September 2016 along with his brother, academic Mehmet Altan. They were accused of ‘sending subliminal messages’ to the coup plotters during a TV panel discussion on the eve of the coup attempt. The programme’s presenter, Nazlı Ilıcak, was also arrested and remains in pre-trial detention.
Investigative journalist, Ahmet Şik, has been remanded in custody since December. In the indictment against him, eight tweets, two interviews and an article were listed as evidence of his aiding three separate proscribed groups, all of which have totally different, often opposing, agendas. His wife Yonca told Amnesty International: “Ahmet’s imprisonment is a message to others: ‘Speak out if you dare’.”
More than 250,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the release of Turkey’s journalists and over the last month thousands have supported the #FreeTurkeyMedia campaign. Run by Amnesty International with the support of numerous other organisations, the campaign encourages people to post a ‘solidarity selfie’ on Twitter.
Among those that have already backed the movement are artist Ai Weiwei, while dozens of cartoonists around the world are submitting work which will be judged by a panel including cartoonists Zunar, Steve Bell and Martin Rowson. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, the three Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned in 2013 in Egypt for more than 400 days, are also supporting the campaign.
“For more than 400 days in Egypt, it was the knowledge that people around the world were campaigning for our release that kept us strong,” wrote Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy in an article published in newspapers around the world today.
“If it was right to speak out for us and demand #FreeAJStaff, it is right to speak up for all journalists jailed simply for doing the their jobs. That is why we have joined the call to #FreeTurkeyMedia.”