OSCE calls on Turkey to respect Özgürlükçü Demokrasi’s independence as raid and seizure of newspaper condemned worldwide

Professional bodies and press freedom associations expressed their indignation over the police operation against the pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi daily and its seizure by the state. While Turkish journalist unions condemned the government’s increased pressure on opposition voices, international press associations called on Turkish authorities to return the newspaper to its rightful owners:- In an official statement released March 29 and addressing Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir expressed his concerns over the raid and seizure:

I insist that journalists should not be accused of terrorism for their journalistic activities. I therefore call for the release of the detained staff of the media outlet and of the printing house, the dismissal of the charges against them, and for the respect of the independence of the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper. I remain convinced that a pluralistic media environment, protective of freedom of expression, does not weaken but contributes to the strength of a society facing security challenges.

– In a joint statement March 29, 17 organizations, including International Press Institute (IPI)PEN International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Article 19 and Index on Censorship urged Turkey to immediately release newspaper and printing staff detained during the police raid. The organizations also called on Turkish authorities “to restore control over the paper and its premises to the rightful owners”:

As the sole remaining Kurdish daily newspaper in Istanbul, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is vital in maintaining the extremely fragile access to information that is not controlled by the state. Following the closure of other pro-Kurdish newspapers and television stations such as Azadiya Welat, IMC TV and Hayatın Sesi in 2016, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is one of the last sources of pro-Kurdish daily printed news in Turkey.

“The Turkish authorities must halt their sustained repression of Kurdish culture and language. We are highly alarmed by the onslaught on Kurdish and pro-Kurdish media outlets and journalists that has intensified dramatically since the crackdown on freedom of expression since the attempted coup of July 2016, and now reached a new low point with this takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi”, Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International, said.

We, the signatories of this statement, strongly condemn the takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, which has taken place without any legal justification or documentation. We reject the denial of information and prosecutorial access to lawyers acting for Özgürlükçü Demokrasi’s arrested staff members.

“The government’s takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is extremely concerning”, Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said. “We urge European and other governments to condemn the obliteration of free media in Turkey.”

We call for the release of the arrested staff members and printworkers and official confirmation from the TMSF of the legal status of the alleged acquisition of Engin Publishing Print Inc. — and the Gün Printing Advertising Film and Publishing Inc. 

Katie Morris, head of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19 said: “The takeover of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi restricts the space for freedom of expression even further in Turkey and curtails the right of the public to access information on issues of public interest, particularly in relation to the on-going conflict in the South East of the country. We call for the authorities to cease harassing this newspaper and restore much needed media freedom in Turkey.”

The takeover of one of the last remaining opposition newspapers follows the acquisition last week of Turkey’s largest media organization and newspaper distributor, Doğan Group, by Turkish conglomerate Demirören, whose media outlets are known for taking a pro-government stance. In the week prior to the purchase, an Internet streaming bill was passed granting the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) sweeping powers to monitor, license and block online streaming channels and news providers.

“This latest act against press freedom confirms that Erdoğanwants to repress any free voice in Turkey. A firm position in Europe is needed to pressure the Turkish government into restoring the rule of law as soon as possible with the cessation of the state of emergency”, Antonella Napoli, a member of Articolo 21 and coordinator of Free Turkey Media in Italy, said.

International Press Institute (IPI)’s Turkey Advocacy Coordinator Caroline Stockford said: “IPI strongly condemns yesterday’s raid and the government’s tactic of shutting down Özgürlükçü Demokrasi in an apparently illegal manner in order to silence dissenting voices in the run-up to the presidential elections. Despite the opportunity presenting itself at this week’s Varna summit, Europe failed again to strongly condemn Turkey’s repression of free media and free speech.”

The peoples of Turkey have a right to access informative opposition reporting in order to form a balanced opinion, especially in the lead up to an election. We call on Turkey to respect the human right to freedom of expression and to refrain from its practice of stifling all opposition media and to release the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi workers from detention.

We, the undersigned, call on European newspapers and governments to make clear statements to Turkey that access to balanced, critical reporting is essential to democracy and that the freedom of the press must be respected and maintained.

The 17 organizations who signed the joint statement are: International Press Institute (IPI), PEN International, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Article 19, Norwegian PEN, Index on Censorship, English PEN, Articolo 21, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN Belgium/Flanders, Wales PEN Cymru, PEN Germany, PEN Club Français, PEN Suisse Romand.

– In Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) statement released March 28, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said:

We condemn this morning’s raid on Özgürlükçü Demokrasi and call on police to immediately release the staff detained. Turkey should restore the daily and its printing presses to their rightful owner and end its tactic of forcibly taking over independent or pro-opposition newspapers.

Turkish Journalists’ Union: Gov’t wants to silence all critics

– In an official statement released March, the President of the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS),Gökhan Durmuş, said:

Following the handover of Doğan Group, the monopolization of media in a single hand has become our main problem. This means the obstruction of people’s right to information. The raid into Özgürlükçü Demokrasi and the attempt of seizing the newspaper shows that the government wants to silence all the critics ahead of the 2019 elections. We need to give more struggle to achieve a free media environment.

– In an official statement, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey – Press Union (DİSK Basın-İş) said:

This is part of the chain of pressure against many opposition media organizations following the State of Emergency and it aims to silence the free media; but the long history of the fight for press freedom has shown that such practices have never succeeded. (…) As DİSK Basın-İş, we stand against all attempt to restrict and obstruct people’s right to information, freedom of opinion and freedom of speech as we express our intention of protecting the rights of all workers working in newspapers and printing houses; we also insist that the struggle for freedom of press cannot be prevented with closures, seizures, trials and punishments.

– Speaking to Mezopotamya Agency, the President of the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), Turgay Olcayto, said:

We demand the State of Emergency to be removed and pressures on journalists to be dissipated. They want one type of person and one type of media. Other raids into other newspapers can occur at any moment. It will take just an emergency decree as long as there is the State of Emergency. It will take just an order.