More than 1,000 demonstrators in Istanbul demanded "Freedom for Journalists" in a protest action on the centrally located Istiklal Avenenue on Friday (4 March). Most of the protestors were journalists, saying "We announce once more that we will not refrain from fulfilling our duty for the public's right to be informed in the best way and that we are not afraid".
The demonstrators expressed their protest against oppression applied against journalists and their arrests after nine of their colleagues, including Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, had been taken into police custody the previous day.
Press members, representatives of political parties and associations gathered on Taksim Square in central Istanbul. Carrying banners featuring "We do not want journalists in prison" and "No to Censorship, Raids and Oppression" they walked down the Istiklal Avenue.
The President of the Turkish Journalists Association, Orhan Erinç, said, "The journalists feel the need for such a protest march because the situation became unendurable".
Ercan İpekçi, current spokesman of the Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP), read out a press release entitled "We will not fall silent".
İpekçi, also Head of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), declared, "Previously, journalist were arrested one by one, then in groups of five and now in dozens. If that had not have happened, journalists would not obliged today to shout out that they are not going to make any concessions on the principles of freedom and independence".
He announced, "61 press members are currently being imprisoned, seven of them are convicted, 54 are detained. These figures do not include the journalists who were taken into police custody yesterday (3 March): Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener, Doğan Yurdakul, Mümtaz İdil, İklim Bayraktar, Sair Çakır, Müyesser Yıldız, Coşkun Musluk and writer Yalçın Küçük
"These applications are an open violation of press freedom and freedom of expression. Our concern about the increasing pressure on journalists has reached a level that is not tolerable any more".
"The ones who allege the imprisoned journalists of membership of a terrorist organization or propaganda commit the offence of defamation".
"It is contrary to the law to confront our colleagues with raids on their homes with the aim to "find evidence" or "place evidence" for the offences "imputed" on them. The accusations against our colleagues lack concrete evidence".
"We expect democratic steps to eliminate an environment that creates pressure, fear and intimidation for journalists. We urgently call for radical amendments of the criminal laws".
"We demand to release the journalists in prison immediately".
Protest in Ankara
Journalists in Ankara wore black bands tied around their mouths in a demonstration. Press employees and journalists gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice on Friday upon the call of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS).
Referring to the most recent arrests, they asked, "Who is next?" Their banners read "Our press is freer than in the USA", a sentence Beşir Atalay, Minister of the Interior, had said to the US American Ambassador.
Besides many journalists, the protest was also attended by members of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
Göksel Yıldırım, Head of the TGS Ankara Branch, said in a joint statement, "61 journalists are imprisoned upon arrest or conviction. The sentences handed down to 39 journalists have not been finalized yet because they were appealed or suspended for five years. Trials on charges of violation of secrecy and similar accusations are pending against more than 4,000 journalists. Journalists feel under threat and are worried. In all these aspects, press freedom in this country should be seriously questioned".
RSF: "Latest raids caused outcry in Turkey and abroad"
Reporters without Borders (RSF) criticized the arrests of the journalists: "Reporters Without Borders is appalled by yesterday's wave of searches and arrests of investigative journalists in Istanbul and Ankara in connection with a probe into an alleged anti-government plot. Journalists who have helped to shed light on this case are being made to pay for the tension between the government and the secularist and ultra-nationalist opposition".
"We deplore the repeated use of the charge of 'membership of a terrorist organization' to go after reporters who are just doing their work at a difficult time of political and ideological rivalry," Reporters Without Borders said. "After a period of reduced tension, we are disturbed to see renewed heavy-handed treatment of journalists who reported facts that do not suit the government".
"Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained journalists in accordance with international law".
HRW: "Arrests will have chilling effect on free speech"
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Turkey said in a written announcement: "Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, through laws introduced by the Justice and Development Party government in the previous parliament. There are also serious concerns about the high number of prosecutions, some of which result in convictions, for statements that neither advocate nor incite violence".
"Some journalists in Turkey have been subject to prolonged pre-trial detention. The more common trend is repeated prosecution, which Human Rights Watch considers a form of harassment and which can have a chilling effect on the legitimate right to free speech".
"The government should take steps to remove all restrictions in law on freedom of expression and to demonstrate a commitment to press freedom and lively critical debate, which together are the hallmarks of a democracy", said HRW Turkey Researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb.