On one of the darkest days for press freedom in Turkey’s recent history, 16 Kurdish journalists have been arrested while a parliamentary commission has approved the “disinformation bill”. The arrests and the bill are blasted by local and international journalism associations as the Turkish government’s latest attempts at censorship.
A Turkish court imprisoned pending trial 16 Kurdish journalists and media workers who were arrested after being detained last week accused of spreading terrorist propaganda, the Media and Law Studies Association and local media said on June 16.
“Today is one of the darkest days for press freedom in Turkey’s history. Authorities continue to crack down on journalists, accusing them of terrorism. We stand in solidarity with all Kurdish media workers currently in prison for doing their job and urge for the immediate release of all of them,” European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) Vice President and Turkey’s Journalists’ Union (TGS) Executive Mustafa Kuleli said.
Eight days in custody with no legal reasoning
According to Reuters, the journalists had been kept in custody for eight days in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir without being formally accused, with prosecutors twice requesting an extension. Among those detained were Serdar Altan, co-head of the Dicle Firat Journalists’ Association, Jin News head Safiye Alagas, and Mezopotamya news agency editor Aziz Oruc.
Authorities declined to comment on the legal reason for arrests, as the investigation was officially declared classified. Citing anonymous police sources, Demiroren News Agency reported on June 16 that the journalists were arrested over “spreading terrorist propaganda”.
837 journalists and 62 media organizations had issued a statement on June 13, supporting their detained colleagues and condemning the detention after police raids as “a blow to press freedom”.
Turkey ranks 149 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, which describes it as a country in which “all possible means are used to undermine critics”.
Turkey has jailed more reporters than most other countries over the last decade, and several media groups had condemned last week’s detentions as “ruthless”. As of early May, 23 journalists were in prison, according to the Journalists’ Union of Turkey.
“Disinformation” bill approved by parliament commission
Meanwhile, a draft of legislation that seeks to criminalize the spread of “disinformation” is moving toward a vote in the Turkish parliament.
Despite widespread criticism from local and international media rights groups, as well as concerns voiced by legal experts, the parliament’s Justice Commission approved the bill on June 15. In spite of opposition parties, the ruling alliance is expected to vote the bill into law in the coming days at the parliament’s General Assembly.
If passed, the so-called “disinformation” law would carry a sentence of up to three years in prison for the spread of fake news or disinformation as defined by government officials and courts.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who says the courts are independent, is accused by his critics of creating “a climate of fear” ahead of the upcoming polls in Turkey for which he declared that he would run for re-election.