Media purge intensifies in coup attempt’s wake

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the growing persecution of critical media in the week since the 15 July coup attempt in Turkey. With the government’s response seeming more and more like a witchhunt, journalists have been subjected to arrests, seizures of entire newspaper issues and a menacing state of emergency.


“No one disputes the Turkish government’s legitimate right to defend constitutional order after this abortive coup but democracy, for which hundreds of civilians gave their lives, cannot be protected by trampling on fundamental freedoms,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.


“The wholesale and arbitrary nature of the attacks on the Turkish media in the past week seems to reflect a desire to exact revenge and bring them into line. It is time the authorities put a stop to this.”


Journalists arrested, issues seized


Journalist and human rights defender Orhan Kemal Cengiz was arrested at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport on 21 July. A columnist for Özgür Düşünce, he was placed in detention while his journalist wife, Sibel Hürtaş, was held for a few hours and then released.


Two journalists with the conservative daily Meydan, managing editor Levent Kenez and editor Gülizar Baki, were arrested during a raid on its headquarters in Istanbul on 20 July and were released the next day after being charged with running a newspaper “resembling a press mouthpiece of the FETÖ organization.”


“FETÖ” is an acronym used by the authorities to refer to the allegedly “terrorist” movement led by Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish cleric who was an ally of President Erdogan until they fell out. The authorities claim that he was behind the coup attempt.


The police seized the newspaper’s entire 20 July issue, giving “the progress of the investigation” and “the possibility of anger being aroused in society” as their grounds for taking action. Meydan has now terminated all activity. Other pro-Gülen Movement media such as the magazine Nokta and Can Erzincan TV have done the same.


The Istanbul police also confiscated the latest issue of the weekly Leman as it came off the presses. The cover showed Gülen in military uniform calling for the creation of an international commission of enquiry to establish who was responsible for the abortive coup.


Purge and calls for a purge


Even the state media have not escaped the purge. Osman Köse, the head of the media workers union Habersen, told RSF that at least six
of its members have been fired in the course of an investigation aimed at unmasking alleged Gülen Movement members and sympathizers. In all, more that 300 state media employees are reportedly affected, above all at the national TV broadcaster
TRT and the news agency Anatolia.


The witchhunt is also intensifying on social networks, where the least critical comment is interpreted as open support for the coup attempt.


For example, Turgay Güler, the editor of the pro-government daily Güneş, attacked the T24 news site on Twitter on 18 July. First he tweeted: “The T24 terror site continues to wage its coup d’état. How is this possible?” And then: “How is it that T24, which served as a base for the coup d’état, is still operating?”


Many journalists, both Turkish and foreign, have been the targets of threatening messages, some of them containing death threats.


State of emergency heavy with menace


At the National Security Council’s proposal, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s government decreed a three-month OHAL, or state of emergency, on 20 July.


It is based on Law No. 2935 of 1983, of which article 11 (e) says: “The printing and distribution of certain newspapers, magazines, brochures, books, leaflets and other printed matter may be prohibited. Their introduction into the region under a state of emergency may be banned if they come from outside, and their importation may be subject to authorization by the authorities. If banned, these publication may be confiscated.”


The state of emergency also suspends the right of individuals to refer any violation of their rights to Turkey’s constitutional court. And it suspends the right to challenge any measures taken by the authorities without reference to a court.


Under the state of emergency that was introduced in 1983 and was not fully lifted until 2002, the authorities confiscated or prevented the distribution of more than 20 publications in southeastern regions with a mostly Kurdish population. Many journalists were arrested with complete impunity and many foreign journalists were deported.


Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.


See RSF’s previous releases on the abortive coup d’état and its consequences:

Turkey: media purge after abortive coup? (18 July 2016)

Abortive coup – Turkish journalists on the brink of the abyss (16 July 2016)