Press Restrictions Continue in Turkey, Months after Summer Coup

Ever since the attempted and failed coup d’etat against Erdogan’s government,  Turkey has seen greater limitations on media freedom. According to Reporter’s Without Borders Freedom Index Turkey ranks 151 out 180 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, a very low ranking for press freedom.

Not only does Turkey rank abysmally low on this scale, the nation has been targeting journalists that are not physically located within its national borders. On September 26th, Mahir Zeynalov, an Azerbaijani born reporter based in the United States, was told by Twitter that his account would be blocked per Turkey’s request on the grounds of “instigating terrorism.”

Zeynalov’s reporting for the Huffington Post and Al Arabiya concerns Turkey and its unfair treatment towards journalists and media outlets. His reporting on the press freedom issues in Turkey were highlighted on CNN’s “Amanpour.” Zeynalov’s critical reporting and analysis of Turkey’s censorship is why the Turkish government moved to have Zeynalov’s Twitter blocked. In 2014, Turkey deported Zeynalov and blacklisted him from ever entering the country again.  

Zeynalov’s english-speaking account  is still active on the social media website today.  This is not the first time Zeynalov has been banned on Twitter. In August his Turkish speaking account was blocked.

Once news of Turkey’s maneuvers to target Zeynalov’s Twitter account were uncovered,  many Twitter users took to the site to petition the corporation against  blocking his english-speaking account. Freedom of the Press tweeted their support for Zeynalov while calling on Twitter to do the right thing. In response, Twitter appealed the decision to block Zeynalov’s account in Turkish court. As Zeynalov’s english-speaking account is still active, it does not seem as Twitter is fully going along with the plans of the Turkish government.

Hayes Brown, world news editor at BuzzFeed, says Zeynalov’s Twitter account is not the only one singled out by the Turkish government. In fact, in a document shared in Brown’s article, there were many other accounts targeted by the Turkish government to be shut down under the pretense of “spreading terrorism.”

This is not the first time Turkey has stepped out of its national boundaries to target reporters. In an event at The George Washington University, U.S. Director of Reporters without Borders Delphine Halgand spoke of how, during Turkey’s last visit to Washington, D.C., Erdogan tried to throw out reporters. The altercation  was very physical one, in which President Erdogan’s body guards physically held back and escorted people away from him.  

“[The] U.S. government had strong language but after the failed coup there was a complete change of words,” said Halgand. “Now Vice President Biden was apologizing that he didn’t come earlier.”

When Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Turkey after the coup, his words were sympathetic and friendly towards Erdogan. And, at no point during his speech did Vice President Biden discuss the atrocities carried out against the media by the Turkish government. By July 27th, about nine days after the conclusion of the coup d’etat, Turkey had shut down more than 100 media outlets, irrespective of the form of media. However, almost little to no official statement has been given by the United States government regarding such a harsh crackdown. Turkey continues to shut down journalists and media outlets without much hesitation or warning from the international community.  

With reporters like Zeynalov consistently reporting about Turkey’s media censorship from afar, it is important for advocates, other than those at  Reporters without Borders, to fight for media freedom in countries like Turkey. As Hagland stated, “[Press freedom is] not an issue only for journalists [but] for the whole society in Turkey.”

Without free press reporting from within Turkey, many reports of censorship go undocumented or under-reported.  This is especially important if Turkey is able to get social media networks like Twitter to block reporters under the disguise of “instigating terrorism”, then there might be no stopping Turkey against completely blocking commentary regarding the nation, whether it is coming from domestic or foreign media.

Not only are journalists and media outlets being targeted, in and outside of Turkey, but so are academics and members of judiciary. On Tuesday, Zeynalov tweeted out the transferr of 72 Turks in Bulgaria, who are journalists, academics and members of judiciary, to Turkey. These Turks were fleeing the Erdogan oppression and crackdown, but were handed over by Bulgaria, further showcasing the power Turkey has with its European neighbors.

Though this tweet is not the particular commentary that got Zeynalov in hot water against the Turkish government, it was this type of statement which caused the Turkish government to take action against Zeynalov’s account.

Since the failed coup many media outlets and journalists have been shut down through the disguise of “initiating terrorism.” The Guardian stated, last week, that 126 journalists are being held in Turkish jail and about 2,500 Turkish writers, editors and broadcasters are unemployed.

Zeynalov did not return request for comment on this story.

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