Erdogan’s persecution of journalists does not stop at Turkiye’s borders


Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to the systematic intimidation of Turkish journalists based abroad who dare to criticise Turkiye’s government. The use of a range of methods to intimidate exile journalists, as well as those within Turkiye, was started by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking another term in next weekend’s elections.

Journalists critical of the Turkish government, including the several hundred living in self-imposed exile in European countries, have feared for their safety for years. The Turkish authorities stop at nothing in their attempts to intimidate them, including threats, armed attacks, trying them in absentia, getting Interpol to target them with red notices, or depriving them of consular services.

“Turkiye needs a new political climate that respects the rights of journalists and press freedom both within the country and abroad. We urge Turkiye’s future leaders to put an end to the intolerable harassment that has for years been threatening the safety of the many Turkish journalists living in self-imposed exile.”

Erol Onderoglu

RSF’s representative in Turkiye

There is no shortage of examples of the aggressive methods used to harass Turkish journalists who have fled abroad. The victims include Akin Olgun, who was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom after a trial dating back to 1995 and who now has British as well as Turkish nationality.

Olgun was detained preventively for more than a month following his arrest on the Greek island of Kos on 13 October 2022 because the Turkish authorities had persuaded Interpol to issue a red notice for him and were seeking his extradition. His crime? Simply sharing information on social media that President Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, had moved to London after resigning as treasury and finance minister.

The persecution to which Can Dündar, the former editor of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet (Republic), has been subjected for years illustrates the variety of methods used by the Turkish authorities to silence journalists. Dündar fled to Germany in 2016 and founded the Turkish-language news site Özgürüz (We are free) after being jailed in Turkiye in November 2015 over a report in Cumhuriyet exposing Erdogan’s arms deliveries to groups in Syria, and then being the target of an armed attack outside the Istanbul lawcourts following his release.

In late 2020, Dündar was sentenced in absentia to 27 years and 6 months in prison on charges of “obtaining information relating to the state for the purpose of political or military espionage” and “supporting the illegal organisation of Fethullah Gülen,” the person regarded by the Turkish authorities as the mastermind of the failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016.

But that’s not all. Dündar is also facing the possibility of an additional prison sentence for posting a video on Özgürüz on 1 March 2017 about the same case of arms supplies to groups in Syria. He could also receive a life sentence in connection with spurious allegations of “support for the massive demonstrations in Gezi Park” in Istanbul in the spring of 2013. And, since September 2022, he is under judicial investigation for “insulting the President” in a comment on YouTube referring to statements by an organised crime leader in exile about political corruption and the absence of justice in Turkiye.

Erk Acarer, a former columnist for the left-wing daily BirGün (Day), who exposed cases of corruption and abuses in Turkiye, was the target of a knife attack on 7 July 2021 at his home in Germany, where he has lived since 2017 to escape arbitrary prosecution in Turkiye in connection with his work as a columnist. The perpetrators of this armed attack were not identified but it is suspected that they were supporters of Turkiye’s ruling AKP party.

In recent years, there have also been physical attacks against Turkish journalists based in Sweden who are accused by the Turkish authorities of belonging to the movement led by Fethullah Gülen, the abortive 2016 coup’s alleged mastermind.

Diplomatic pressure, blackmail

Ragip Zarakolu, a writer and columnist for the left-wing daily Evrensel (Universal) who has lived in Sweden since 2012, has grounds for concern. His name is on the list of “terrorists” whose extradition the Turkish government is seeking in exchange for lifting its veto on Sweden joining NATO. Before fleeing to Turkiye, Zarakolu was charged with membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). And, in December 2019, a Turkish court ordered the “partial seizure” of his property in an attempt to force him to return.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) nonetheless ruled in September 2020 that Zarakolu’s imprisonment in Turkiye for five months at the end of 2011 was “arbitrary.” The Turkish authorities also accuse him praising the 2016 coup attempt and threatening President Erdogan in an editorial published on 5 May 2020 in the daily Evrenseland on Arti Gerçek, a news site created by Turkish journalists based in Germany.

Other Turkish journalists, such as Bülent Kenes, a Gülen movement supporter, are on the list of “terrorists” that Turkiye wants Sweden to extradite.

Many Turkish journalists based in Europe have told RSF that the Turkish authorities deprive them of consular services, such as passport extensions, if they are the subject of any legal proceedings or warrant in Turkiye. As a results, some journalists have been forced to apply for political asylum. They include Fehim Tastekin, a well-known Middle East expert and columnist for the GazeteDuvar news site who has lived in self-imposed exile in France since January 2017.

Dozens of other journalists, such as Kutlu Esendemir, Baransel Agca, Metin Cihan and Ertugrul Mavioglu, have been forced to live abroad for years because of the many kinds of threats to which journalists are exposed in Turkiye.