Amnesty International on February 28 responded to a Turkish court’s decision to remand Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel in custody by stating that the free media in Turkey “is in its death throes”.
Yucel, who works for German newspaper Die Welt, is being held pending a trial on charges of propaganda and incitement to hatred. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the detention as excessively harsh.
John Dalhuisen, director for Europe and Central Asia at the human rights group, said: “The detention of Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German national, marks a new chapter in the Turkish authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression. Not content with their drive to purge the Turkish media of all dissent, the Turkish authorities have now stepped up their attacks against foreign outlets reporting within the country.”
Yucel had already spent 13 days in police detention. More than 120 journalists and media workers in Turkey have been imprisoned awaiting trial since the attempted coup in July last year which triggered a government crackdown, said Amnesty. Dalhuisen added: “Turkey now has the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, and free media in the country is in its death throes.”
Amnesty is urging the Turkish authorities to release Yucel and all other journalists in pre-trial detention immediately and unconditionally and “to cease this assault on freedom of expression and dissident voices”.
“Journalism is not a crime - the media blackout in Turkey must end now,” said Dalhuisen.
The precarious position of the media in Turkey during the ongoing state of emergency and in the run-up to the April referendum - in which Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan will try to persuade voters to downgrade parliament and turn him into a head of state with sweeping powers - was demonstrated on February 27 when the share price of Turkey's Dogan Holding fell by as much as 5% d/d on news that Turkish prosecutors were probing a news article published by the conglomerate's flagship daily Hurriyet.
The item, headlined “Discomfort within Army HQ”, looked at military annoyance over not being consulted on issues including the recent move to allow women in service to wear the Islamic headscarf. Pro-Erdogan media reacted aggressively to the piece. It was said to be reminiscent of the times when the Turkish army regularly intervened in Turkish politics by raising concerns in the media over political issues.
Yucel, 43, handed himself in to the police on February 14 after he was pursued for reporting on e-mails from the account of Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister. The e-mails were published by the Redhack hacking group. Turkish media group P24 reported that Yucel was under arrest on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda.
Merkel’s comments on the Yucel case risks aggravating Erdogan at a time when Berlin and the EU are counting on him to help stem refugee flows into Europe.
“This measure is disproportionately harsh,” Merkel said in a statement issued late on February 27.
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