Ifj Demands Free Turkish Journalists!

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The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) call on the Turkish authorities to immediately release journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül and to drop all charges against them.

The two reporters working for the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet were arrested last week in Istanbul following a judicial complaint initiated by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on charges of ‘procuring information as to state security’, ‘political and military espionage’, ‘publishing confidential information’ and ‘doing propaganda on behalf of a terror organisation’.

According to media reports, all the charges are related to an article and footage released by Cumhuriyet on 29 May under the headline, ‘Here are the weapons Erdogan claims not to exist.’ The article showed images of the gendarmerie and police officers opening crates on the back of trucks which contained what the newspaper described as weapons and ammunition sent to rebel groups in Syria by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation in January 2014.

Following the publication of the article, president Erdogan threatened the Cumhuriyet journalists during a live television broadcast that ‘the person who made this special news will heavily pay for it’. In his criminal complaint, the Turkish president is requesting that each journalist be sentenced to one time aggravated life imprisonment, one time life imprisonment and a further 42 years in prison for ‘undermining state interest by using falsified images’.

In a joint statement, the IFJ and EFJ’s Turkish affiliate Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC), backed by both Federations, strongly condemned the arrest. In their joint statement the TGS and TGC said: ‘The publication of these articles in question was the duty of journalists towards the public’s right to know. The public’s access to information must be guaranteed and respected.

‘Journalists are not supposed to protect and defend state interests; this is the task of state authorities. The arrest of our colleagues Can Dündar and Erdem Gül is a violation of Turkey’s constitution, the media law 5187, the Turkish penal code, the jurisprudence of the Turkish constitutional court and the European Convention on Human Rights.’

Jim Boumelha, IFJ president, said: ‘We know Can Dündar and the journalists working for Cumhuriyet newspaper well. Dündar was our keynote speaker during our international conference in Istanbul where he described how difficult it is to resist the oppression and never-ending forms of prosecution. We demand the Turkish authorities immediately release Can Dündar and Erdem Gül and drop all charges against them.’

Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, EFJ president, said: ‘These arrests will certainly be challenged in regard of articles 5 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights but in the meantime we cannot accept the detention of our colleagues in jail. The public’s right to know can only be guaranteed through the freedom of the press.

‘This case also raises serious questions about the independence of the judiciary in Turkey. In the wake of the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, Turkish authorities should correct the situation by releasing immediately our colleagues.’

The IFJ and EFJ will report this case to the Council of Europe’s platform for the protection and safety of journalists and to the Mapping Media Freedom platform supported by the European Commission.

l A delegation from the International Federation of Journalists joined a national conference organised in Ramallah by the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) on the ‘Role of Media in Covering Conflicts’. Over 130 journalists, editors, civil society organisations and Palestinian officials participated in the debates which tackled the safety crisis that journalists face in Palestine and ways to provide them with protection.

According to the PJS reports, more than 70 Palestinian and international journalists were injured or assaulted by the Israeli army since the beginning of October this year, some of whom were present in the meeting and shared their experiences with the audience. Abdulnasser Najjar, president of the PJS and an IFJ executive committee member, said: ‘We are in debt to the IFJ and the leaders of journalists’ unions who are with us today.

‘The Palestinian journalists are facing very difficult times and we need the solidarity and support of all our sisters and brothers from the journalists’ unions around the world in our struggle to work and live as free journalists.’

The IFJ leadership backed the Palestinian journalists and asked for their safety and rights to be fully respected. Jim Boumelha, IFJ president, said: ‘It is a moral obligation to the IFJ to be present here today and back our Palestinian colleagues, especially after the outrageous attacks suffered by the Palestinian journalism community last year, when 9 reporters were killed.’

He also condemned the wounds and bruises sustained by the PJS president back in May following an attack by Israeli troops on a rally marking World Press Freedom Day. ”The IFJ will endeavour to strengthen the safety of Palestinian journalists and to guarantee their basic rights so they can keep reporting independently on the ground and be at the service of civil society and their right to be informed.’

The debate also included discussions with senior journalists about the editorial policies at major Palestinian media organisations and their commitment to provide truthful information and quality journalism to the Palestinian people. The discussion further focused on the importance of supporting critical journalism in times of conflict.

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said: ‘It is heartening to be part of this professional and important debate launched by our Palestinian colleagues. The IFJ will continue to endeavour to support the PJS in defending the social and professional rights of Palestinian journalists including their right to work without fearing for their lives.’

The IFJ international delegation met the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and urged him to support the PJS and Palestinian journalists in these difficult times. The delegation also asked him to lend his support to the professional debate led by the IFJ across the Arab region involving journalists’ unions, national human rights commissions and civil society organisations on strengthening regional support for press freedom including a Declaration on Media Freedom in the Arab World.

President Abbas pledged that when the debate is concluded he will be ‘the first to sign the declaration’. The IFJ delegation also included Michelle Stainstreet, NUJ general secretary; Dominique Pradalié, general secretary of Syndicat National des Journalistes (SNJ) in France; Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of Media Workers Association of South Africa; Saimo Chahal, human rights lawyer from the UK and Monir Zaarour, IFJ coordinator in the Arab World and the Middle East.

Palestinian journalists, editors and government officials discussed the promotion of ethical journalism, the preconditions for quality journalism and the responsibilities of management and the state in creating an environment where quality journalism can flourish. The meeting was organised by the Palestinian union’s ethics committee and led by the committee’s chair, Husam Ezzedin. Participants included Mahmoud Khleifa, deputy minister of information, and PJS vice-president Naser Abu Baker.

Participants underlined the many obstacles to ethical standards in journalism including worsening working conditions for journalists, the lack of regulatory structures in the media and the intense political, social and economic pressures placed on media organisations. The recommendations included proposing a draft code of conduct for the media sector by the PJS through a public consultation process and to further the debate on the best regulatory model for the Palestinian media.

On 25 November, the UN international day for the elimination of violence against women, a group of leading female journalists and civil society organisations debated the issues facing Palestinian women including those working in the media sector. It covered the challenges and struggles of Palestinian women who face social tradition, stereotyping, professional challenges and physical and psychological violence as women living under the occupation.

Kholoud Assaf, editor of WAFA news agency and head of the PJS gender equality committee, said: ‘We are determined to continue our fight for equal professional rights of women journalists in Palestine. The fact that more women journalists are joining the profession must be reflected by having more women leading Palestinian media organisations.’