Turkey must stop using anti-terrorism laws to target independent journalists, PEN International, an association promoting literature and freedom of expression, said in a statement on Thursday condemning the arrest of 16 journalists and media workers and calling for their immediate release.
On Wednesday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) said the journalists’ arrest was “arbitrary”, condemning the violation of the right to free expression.
21 Kurdish journalists and media workers were arrested on 8 June in dawn raids on their homes. They were referred to court after eight days in police custody, and 16 of them were remanded in prison over terrorism charges related to the stories they worked on.
Turkish government affiliated media reported that the journalists had been making “terrorist propaganda” for Europe-based Kurdish-focused outlets, and that the journalists were part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) so-called press committee. The journalists and their lawyers were not given this information.
The journalists “were questioned about their journalistic activities and social media posts, and were notably asked what they thought of the PKK,” PEN said.
The writers’ association called on Ankara to “uphold the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to give and receive information”.
The arrests “appear to be part of a systematic effort to silence independent media in Turkey and have a chilling effect on free speech,” PEN International Writers in Prison Committee Chair Ma Thida said.
According to the FIDH and OMCT, there are “alarming examples of arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of journalists” in Turkey, which pose a grave threat to freedoms in the country in combination with the newly proposed social media act, dubbed ‘Censorship Act’ among opposition circles.
“FIDH and OMCT recall that judicial harassment, including arbitrary detention, arrest and conviction of Kurdish dissidents, human rights defenders and journalists, particularly under the much-criticised anti-terrorism framework, is common practice in Turkey,” the organisations said. “The arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment seem to be only aimed at punishing (the journalists) for their legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression, including press freedom.”
They called for the immediate release of all imprisoned journalists in the country, the majority of whom are also Kurdish, and said authorities should “ensure that all journalists in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions”.
FIDH and OMCT called for the retraction of the social media bill.