Eylül Deniz Yaşar – Ankara
As part of the countrywide “Where is Gülistan Doku?” protests in Turkey, women in Ankara gathered on 5 January in the centre of the Turkish capital to seek justice for the missing Kurdish woman Gülistan Doku, on the first anniversary of her disappearance.
As the police blockaded the protesting women, eighteen women were physically assaulted and detained by them. Three women journalists were amongst those detained – including the writer of this report! I met with my female colleagues the next day after our detention and with a male colleague who was assaulted whilst trying to record and document the violence that was being perpetrated against the women.
Two JinNews reporters who were detained and a Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporter who was assaulted by the police in the same protest talked to MedyaNews about the police violence that took place and the state of press freedom in Turkey.
Habibe Eren: ‘They began to attack me: they hit me to the ground’
JinNews reporter Habibe Eren was among the eighteen women who were detained. As she was trying to cover the Gülistan Doku protest in Ankara, “they began to hit and assault a journalist friend from the Mesopotamia Agency. I tried to stop them. They began to attack me: they hit me to the ground and detained me soon after. The attitude of the police had the certain purpose of trying to ensure as much physical harm to us as possible, to cause us permanent damage”, she said. “One police officer especially ordered the other one to confiscate my camera. They wanted to take our cameras to destroy the evidence of the torture we recorded”.
Eren noted that the police asked for her press card on more than one occasion and each time she presented it, she was informed that her card was “not valid” because it was not the “turquoise” press card that is issued by Turkey’s Presidential Communications Directorate. Turkey’s Presidential Communications Directorate changed the press cards’ colour from yellow to turquoise last year, and later on refused to issue the newly coloured cards to many of those reapplying for the ‘turquoise’ cards after invalidating all yellow cards still in use. These disconcerting actions were noted in a press statement that was released by the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS).
Women journalists face violence
As a women’s news agency, JinNews tries to cover women’s protests and act as the voice of women’s demands. “The women in Ankara are amongst those who actively use the streets to voice their democratic demands. So, in each women’s protest, the police see us. The torture is aimed at targeting women, targeting us woman journalists who are present as well”, noted Eren.
Kurdish journalists are a target of the police who use harassment and issue threats, Eren emphasized. “They target us even before the protestors: they target our very presence. They try to terrorize us and prevent us from conducting our journalistic work as we cover each democratic protest. They use biased and false claims against us which we are all too aware of”, she said.
“Kurdish women journalists face double harassment. The police take photos of us at each event we cover: many of our friends face imprisonment and investigations. Some friends faced the pressure of being asked to become an agent for state intelligence”.
Appeal for international solidarity
Eren appealed to international supporters who defend the freedom of the press. “It is very important for us that international organisations document the violations of press freedom in Turkey. Our international solidarity should reach the level of active solidarity. They can spread our news more, because each piece of news we report turns back to us in files and cases that are used against us. Our international friends and colleagues can make our website more visible: they can help to circulate our reports and highlight what we are doing and they can give voice to the violations of rights that we are being subjected to in their own platforms”, she said.
“Journalism needs strong solidarity now, because in addition to the murder of women, the murder of journalists has once again started in Turkey”, she stated.
Öznur Değer: ‘I tried to save my camera before my body’
Öznur Değer, a journalist working for JinNews was detained as she tried to help her colleague Eren, who was trying to help the Mesopotamia Agency reporter during the police attack. “I was there to report the events as a journalist, as usual. The fact that they did not allow the women protesters at the demonstration to legally raise their voices to ask about the whereabouts of a missing woman, Gülistan Doku, is reflective of the shameful situation in Turkey. The same officers who hit, assaulted and detained the women present at the demonstration, hit, assaulted and detained me as a journalist trying to film what was happening. Even though I yelled out ‘I am a journalist’, they did not want to hear me”, she said.
Her camera was thrown to the ground when she was forcibly detained. “They have tried to damage our equipment and cameras since the day the newspaper Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) was bombed in the 1990’s. We do not really care if we are detained or not, but the fact that our camera was broken and is irreparably damaged upset me greatly. We try to save our cameras first before saving our bodies”, she stated.
Kurds, women and journalists: Three problematic identities
Değer made an assessment of the attack that she was also subjected to. She viewed it as part of a systematic state approach towards certain identities that she personifies. “The attack I faced was not a personal issue for me, but a means to attack my identity as a Kurdish woman journalist”, she observed.
According to Değer, journalists being attacked, assaulted and detained by the police reveals the reality of Turkey’s approach towards journalists: “We face a blockade as journalists wherever we go. However, we are three times more disadvantaged: firstly, as women, secondly being Kurdish and thirdly, for being journalists. These three ‘banned’ identities increase the level to which we are subjected to attacks”.
Mehmet Günhan: ‘Not me, but my press card was detained’
Mehmet Günhan, a journalist intern working for Mesopotamia Agency’s (MA’s) Ankara bureau, was amongst the journalists who were physically attacked by the police as they covered the Gülistan Doku protest that was held on 5 January in the Turkish capital. “They began to disrupt our reporting before the actual protest even began, when we first arrived at the meeting point of the demonstration. They (the police) asked for our press cards. When I showed them my MA press card, they did not accept it. They indicated that they did not accept me as a ‘journalist’ and they stated that I was not allowed to film the protest”, he said. “We began to record the police blockade over the protesting women. The police tried to build a wall of bodies to block our cameras from seeing what was happening. One policeman hit my shoulder before several police officers began to pull me from all sides”.
Mehmet Günhan: ‘I could not breathe’
Günhan noted that during the police attack, the officers repeatedly asked him to hand over his press card. “Other journalist friends were trying to help me. I was eventually pulled in-between a crowded police group and isolated from them. The women journalists who tried to help me were detained”, he clarified. Recalling the police violence he was subjected to, Günhan said: “One policeman was behind me, throttling me: I could not breathe for a few seconds. I was thrown to the ground. I had a pain in my arm due to the punches of the police. I still have pain in my neck and my throat due to their attempts at choking me”.
Police confiscated his “press card”
After Günhan stood up, the police forced him to hand over his press card. “I showed them my press card again and told them: ‘As you can see, I am a journalist, let me do my job’. They confiscated my press card. They never returned it to me. ‘Do not film anything, do not record the protest’, the policeman kept saying. I was not detained but my press card was detained”, he said.
Journalist Günhan’s press card has not been handed to him back and no official statement from the Ankara Police Department has been issued regarding the whereabouts of the press card.
MA reporters face state pressure
According to Günhan, the attack on him was not a random attack but part of wider state pressure being clearly exerted on his news agency MA. “We follow the voice of the truth. We are chasing the truth. Therefore, we follow all events in the field. On that day, there weren’t so many journalists covering the women’s protest for Gülistan Doku. When there aren’t too many reporters in the field, we are the ones who the police first confront”, he noted. “We try to unveil the truth whatever the risk and cost. Once truth is swept under the carpet, it always costs more to reveal it when in darkness. Therefore, our quest for truth means we must be there, present at the right time and place, before darkness comes. Being aware of this, we will continue our efforts to document the truth everywhere it emerges”.