March 4, 2011
Mar 4, 2011, 13:06 GMT
Istanbul – Hundreds of members of the media protested in Istanbul and Ankara on Friday against a wave of arrests of journalists in aspiring European Union-memberTurkey.
They called for a free press and an end to the current climate of media persecution that they say has increased in recent months.
The Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella organisation of 85 local and national media groups that organized the protests, expressed ‘concern regarding the number of journalists being imprisoned, detained and tried in court, which is increasing every day.’
‘We are waiting for democratic steps to be taken immediately to remove the atmosphere of restraint, fear and intimidation that is being imposed on journalists and for sweeping changes to be made to the penal code,’ they said in a statement.
The protests took place a day after police raided the homes and offices of eight journalists – including award-winning writers at major newspapers – and detained them over alleged ties to an organisation called Ergenekon, which is accused of plotting to bring down the government.
Thursday’s round of detentions came just two weeks after three other journalists, from the opposition website Oda TV, were arrested on charges of alleged links to the same organisation.
Oda TV had made no secret of its opposition to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party is up for re-election in June, while several of the journalists arrested Thursday had published books on sensitive political issues.
‘All of the journalists who have been arrested have something in common: the news and books they have published recently have upset the AKP government. We are here today because we see these latest arrests as an attack on all of us,’ Erdal Guven, an editorial coordinator at daily newspaper Radikal who participated in the protest in Istanbul, told the German Press Agency dpa.
The arrests have sparked outrage among media organisations in Turkey and criticism abroad, with the US State Department saying it has ‘broad concerns about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey.’
Critics of the government have accused it of using the Ergenekon investigation – in which over 300 people, including journalists, academics and politicians, have been arrested since 2008 – as a way of silencing its opponents.
More than 60 journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey and court cases are ongoing against some two thousand members of the press, according to the Freedom for Journalists Platform.
Turkey was ranked 138th place out of 178 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index in 2010, down from 101st place three years earlier.