The recent Turkish military offensive in northern Syria has not only brought more chaos to the region but has also resulted in a renewed crackdown on freedom of the press in Turkey.
The latest attack on press freedoms is part of a broader trend of hostility from the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan toward critical media.
On October 10, the Chief Prosecutor’s office in Istanbul released a statement banning criticism of Turkish strikes in northern Syria. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Prosecutor’s statement promises to punish anyone who “targets the social peace of the Republic of Turkey, domestic peace, unity and security” with “any kind of suggestive news, written or visual publication/broadcast” alongside “operational social media accounts.”
The next day, police detained journalist Fatih Gökhan Diler of the news website Diken for quoting a statement from the Kurdish-supported Syrian Defense Forces.
According to the Turkish news site Bianet, the Directorate General of Security said at least 78 people were being prosecuted for criticism.
Turkey has killed multiple journalists in its recent military action in northern Syria. On October 11, journalist Vedat Erdemci was killed in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn by Turkish airstrikes.
Journalist Verdat Erdemci, who was killed October 11 by a Turkish airstrike whilst covering the battle in Serekaniye. RIP. pic.twitter.com/AbtUL7HSKT
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) October 31, 2019
Syrian Kurdish journalists Saad Ahmad and Mohamed Hossein Rasho were killed when their vehicle was targeted by a Turkish airstrike in northern Syria.
The repression of journalists within Turkey is indicative of a broader pattern of repression of journalists that has occurred since Erdoğan was elected president. Recently, Erdoğan filed a complaint against French magazine Le Point over a cover that said, “Ethnic Cleansing: The Erdoğon Method.” According to Voice of America, “Prosecutors alleged the cover constituted an insult to the president, a crime under Turkish law commonly used to target journalists in Turkey.”
This is not the first time Turkey has attempted to suppress foreign journalists. In September, two Bloomberg reporters covering the Turkish economy were arrested for “trying to undermine the country’s economic stability.” In October 2017, former Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak was sentenced to prison in absentia for “engaging in terrorist propaganda.” The conviction has since been dismissed.
According to CPJ, Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world. Since the failed 2016 coup, Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people for alleged links to terrorist organizations. According to the Associated Press, at least 143 of those detained are members of the press. Additionally, after the failed coup, the government shut down more than 200 media organizations.
Human rights activist and journalist Nursan Baysal expressed deep concern over the wave of repression, saying, “Having my home raided by heavily armed and masked police officers, about thirty of them, terrorising my children… And this, simply for some social media posts calling for peace shows the level of suppression in Turkey of the right to freedom of expression.”