Barred, Arrested, Deported…
Turkey’s crackdowns on members of the press and freedom of the press more generally escalated this week with arrests and deportations of multiple high profile foreign journalists.
The latest round of detentions appears to have begun following a diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands, when the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam called on Turks to report insults against the president or the nation.
Dutch MPs were quick to criticize this move, however despite the consulate withdrawing the call, the underlying issues prevailed as Dutch journalist Ebru Umar was detained following posting Tweets allegedly critical of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Although released the next day, Ms Umar, who is of Turkish origin, is reportedly unable to leave Turkey at this time. After being brought before a judge, Umar stated that she was “free but forbidden to leave the country”.
Ms Umar’s case was followed quickly by that of David Lepeska, a well known contributor for Al Jazeera and the Guardian among other outlets. Lepeska was denied entry in to the country and returned to the US from Istanbul after waiting for several hours at Atatürk airport according to his Twitter account.
Lepeska also said on his Instagram account that “This is not the last I will see of you, Turkey.”
There are strong fears that these moves will foster even greater self-censorship and deter international reporting on controversial issues, particularly on the Kurdish conflict.
These arrests also indicate a significant broadening of press targets. Previously, foreign media workers and outlets had been relatively immune to the crackdowns on press freedom now commonplace across the country.
That excludes journalists closely engaged in the Kurdish issue however. Foreign journalists reporting on this, which includes David Lepeska, have been aggressively discouraged from doing so, largely using legal mechanisms which have enabled to the arrest and deportation of another Dutch journalist, Frederike Geerdink in September last year, as well as three Vice journalists, one of whom, Mohammed Rasool, was held for 131 days in a maximum security prison.
The arrest of Ebru Umar, and the barring of David Lepeske and Sputnik’s Turkish bureau chief Tural Kerimov’s entry to the country appears to indicate a more widespread and systematic policy emerging, and is also reflective of diplomatic disputes with the Netherlands and Russia.
Kerimov was not only barred from entry but also stripped of his press accreditation and residence permit according to Sputnik. The agency itself has additionally been blocked in Turkey.
David Lepeska was reportedly informed that an “entry ban” had been placed on his visa according to Reuters.
These journalists’ arrests will likely add to growing pressure on European and American leaders to raise freedom of speech issues with the Turkish government, particularly as the timing of Umar’s arrest coincided with a visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel who was in the country as part of ongoing negotiations over the Syrian refugee crisis.
Merkel has already come under fire of late for her handling of yet another free speech issue over German comedian Jan Böhmermann so called ‘slander poem’, who could face up to five years imprisonment at the behest of President Erdoğan.
The Turkish government deny accusations of suppressing free speech, instead arguing that such measures are necessary for security reasons.