Harry van Bommel: Turkey’s repression crosses the line

28 April 2016

Harry van Bommel: Turkey’s repression crosses the line

Freedom of expression and of the press have been under pressure for some years in Turkey, a fact confirmed by the World Press Freedom Index published annually by Reporters Without Borders. In 2014 Turkey recorded a poor result, but fell further last year to as low as 151st, only 29 off the bottom position, and lower than Venezuela, Russia or Tadzhikistan. In comparison the Netherlands came second.


Every year Turkey also records an exceptionally low score when it comes to locking up journalists as a result of their work. This can be seen in the overview published at the end of each year by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Only China, Egypt, Iran and Eritrea had a worse record in 2015. Notorious examples include the two journalists from the daily Cumhuriyet arrested for writing about arms shipments from the Turkish secret service to fighters in Syria.

In addition to journalists, newspapers themselves are being attacked. Recently, for example, the opposition sheet Zaman was taken over by the government. Overnight, reports on President Erdogan were transformed from critical to laudatory.


Insulting the head of state is also being treated more harshly. Recently the Turkish Ministry of Justice announced that since the coming to office of the President in 2014, almost 2000 cases had been brought to court as a result of alleged insults to the head of state. Amongst those being prosecuted are journalists, cartoonists, academics and even school students.

Although growing repression is particularly tangible in Turkey itself, it is increasingly crossing the line to make itself felt outside the country’s borders. The arrest of Dutch journalist Ebru Umar, who is of Turkish descent, is merely the latest example. Previous to this it was revealed that the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam was asking people to report the names of users of email or social media who have said slanderous or insulting things about Erdogan or Turkey. In addition, an adviser to Erdogan is helping Dutch residents and citizens of Turkish origin to make declarations against Dutch cabaret performer Hans Teeuwen, who last week used insulting words against the Turkish President.

Last year Dutch journalist Fréderike Geerdink was twice arrested while in Turkey, accused of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation. The reality is that she is a specialist in Kurdish affairs who wrote critically on the oppression of the Kurds in the country’s south-eastern region, oppression which has only increased with the escalation of violence in the area since last summer. Last year too the Dutch-Turkish journalist Mehmet Ulgur also suffered arrest, charged with responsibility for an incident in 2013, when he used his smartphone to take photographs in a Turkish courtroom.

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