Turkey: detention of Sözcü Daily staff effectively silences Turkey’s independent press

English PEN joins PEN International in condemdning the detention and arrest warrants targeting Turkey’s third most widely-read daily newspaper, Sözcü, another clear signal of the Turkish authorities’ resolve to continue their onslaught on freedom of expression.

On 19 May, Turkish anti-terror police detained the newspaper’s web manager Mediha Olgun and raided the houses of owner Burak Akbay, finance manager Yonca Kaleli and reporter Gökmen Ulu. According to reports from the state-owned Anadolu News Agency, the seventh Criminal Court of Peace of Istanbul issued arrest warrants for Kaleli and Ulu as well as for Akbay who is reportedly out of the country. The agency also stated that the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s office initiated the investigation on charges of ‘committing crimes on behalf of FETÖ (Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation) without being a member’, ‘facilitating armed attack against the government of Republic of Turkey’ and ‘facilitating assault against the President’.

Jennifer Clement, PEN International President, said:

We are witnessing the complete dismantling of Turkey’s free press right in front of our eyes. In today’s Turkey, freedom of expression and critical thought are criminal offences. PEN International is appalled at Turkey’s blatant and continued attack on critical and independent voices and will continue to support our friends and colleagues in Turkey.

The charges relate to a news story published by Sözcü daily on 15 July 2016 – ‘Sözcü found Erdoğan’ – in which reporter Gökmen Ulu wrote about the holiday resort in Marmaris where President Erdoğan was staying. The resort was attacked by military personnel looking for the president on the night of the coup.

In response to the allegations, Sözcü daily’s lawyer stated that the investigation had been going on for months and that prosecutors on the case had been changed six times, after he submitted his 70-page defense to the previous persecutors and no criminal activity was found.

Mainstream media in Turkey have been all but silenced since the attempted coup. According to PEN International’s records, 29 publishing houses, 15 news channels, four news agencies and 45 local and national newspapers have been shut down in the course of 11 months while 163 journalists remain behind bars.

Sözcü is the largest opposition daily in circulation in the country, with 271,000 readers, and one of the last critical outlets still in print.

PEN calls on the Turkish authorities to halt executive interference with independent news organisations and to end the prosecutions and detention of journalists simply on the basis of the content of their journalism or alleged affiliations. The organisation further calls on the authorities to end the state of emergency and to ensure that investigations into those responsible for the coup are limited to those alleged to be directly involved in criminal activity, are based on evidence, and that due process is guaranteed with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

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