May 3 was International World Press Freedom day, which was marked in a particularly poignant atmosphere this year in Turkey, where 163 journalists are in prison and 180 media outlets have been shut down since the July 15 coup attempt.
The day was marked with events held both inside and outside the country, where journalists in prison shared their messages with national and international audiences.
In İstanbul, Punto24 Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) marked the World Press Freedom Day with an annual lecture in memory of late journalist Mehmet Ali Birand. The event paid tribute to more than 160 journalists who are currently behind bars in Turkey as P24 employees read out their names one by one ahead of the lecture, given this year by New York Times editorial board member Carol Giacomo. “Our colleagues who have been imprisoned because of their words are not alone,” was the message from the P24. “Journalism is not a crime. We will continue the legal struggle for their freedom.”
From Silivri to Brussels
An exhibition titled “Expression Interrupted” at the initiative of three political groups in the European Parliament, featuring posters of 30 of the imprisoned journalists, was launched inside the parliament building on May 2.
Novelist Ahmet Altan and economist Mehmet Altan, two of the imprisoned journalists who are currently held in pre-trial detention in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison No. 9 on “coup” charges stemming from some of their newspaper articles and comments during a television program, sent messages to the symposium.
“In the prison of a country whose courts have been turned into the slaughterhouse of law, I remain happy and hopeful,” said Ahmet Altan in his message, sent via his lawyers. “My trust in people and in humanity has never been shaken and never will be. Because of my trust in them, no matter what happens I will live on happily and with hope behind bars.”
His brother, Mehmet Altan’s message reads: “Whenever this land is not governed humanely, oppression and cruelty intensify. In the year 2017, it was our turn to fall victim to this dead-end street of despair where one follows in one’s own tracks. Turkish history is full of examples of what we are going through. People who use their brains have always been treated with cruelty. I used to think this was over and this ugly sense of despair would not repeat itself. I was mistaken.”
Messages from Cumhuriyet writers
Others who sent messages to the symposium included Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, Cumhuriyet Foundation Executive President Akın Atalay, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper’s book supplement, publications advisor and columnist Kadri Gürsel, news ombudsman Güray Öz, cartoonist Musa Kart, columnist Hakan Kara, lawyers Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör, executive Önder Çelik and reporter Ahmet Şık.
Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu said: “I know and believe that in my country, one day not too far into the future, every person of every opinion will live together in peace without treating anyone as the other.”
Kadri Gürsel in his message said that he was arrested on charges of knowingly aiding a terrorist organization. “I know that my true crime however is criticizing the repressive political and practical attitude of the government in my column and my speeches,” he said.
Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Şık said: “No society is an island. We need to fight for democratic values more than ever before.”
Message from Die Welt’s Yücel
Deniz Yücel, who was arrested on charges of inciting the public to hatred and hostility on February 27, also sent a message through his newspaper, Die Welt.
Yücel’s message was apparently a response to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that Yücel is a “German spy,” and that he will “not be extradited to any country as long as I occupy this post.”
In his response to the president’s statement published in Die Welt, Yücel said, “It might seem natural for a top level state administrator to pass a judgment about an imprisoned person who hasn’t been on trial in a country such as Azerbaijan or Belarus; and thus giving orders to judges and prosecutors. But this is an odd situation in the civilized world where the rule of law prevails.”
Yücel said he did not want be to extradited any other place, adding that there was no address to which he could be extradited, adding that his only demand is a fair trial.
Women reporters share messages
Female reporters working for various publications also shared their messages for May 3 in interviews with Gazete Şüjin.
Seyhan Avşar, a reporter with Cumhuriyet told Şuzin. “Today, more than 140 journalists are in prison. They think they will be able to silence those journalists who they can’t kill by putting them behind bars. It sounds tragicomical to be marking this day when so many of our colleagues are under arrest.”
Milliyet reporter Çiğdem Yılmaz said complained about outright sexism in the sector. “We often hear statements such as, ‘You have to work day or night. Reporting is not for women. Additionally, many journalists are in prison for their opinions, dozens are currently on trial.”
Cansu Pişkin from Evrensel said, “We have to report under threats and a siege due to concerns about our life safety and because of the restrictions on freedoms. The most difficult problem we meet as female journalists the wreath of male journalists. They can simply push you from one point to another one with their huge cameras and large bodies.”
Sadiye Eser from Dihaber said “We meet with many difficulties as female journalists. We are under pressure from both security forces and our male colleagues with whom we work together. They don’t see women as cameramen. They might sometimes simply invade our working space, saying ‘it is okay if women don’t film this.”
Protests outside embassies
There were several protests held by friends of Turkish journalists in cities abroad outside Turkish missions. Amnesty International, PEN members and executives of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) gathered outside the Turkish Embassy in London to protest against the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey.
A similar protest took place in front of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin, where representatives organizations including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders protested.
Turkey press freedoms
Turkey was ranked 151st out of 180 countries, receiving an index score of 50.76 in Press freedom index ranking of Reporters Without Borders in 2016. The country received a press freedom score of 71 (0=best, 100=worst) and a press status of “not free” Freedom of the press grade by Freedom House also in 2016.