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NUJ speaks out for journalists in Turkey

The worsening situation in Turkey was discussed at the NUJ delegate meeting this weekend in Southport and a number of excellent motions were passed. Cambridge branch put forward a comprehensive late notice motion covering recent developments in the trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül (their case comes up again next week in the Istanbul court).  Reference was also made to the Odatv (an Internet news site) trial which drags on. There was a further hearing on 13 April. At this, the expert report was positive concerning evidence that incriminating material was planted on the Odatv office computers. The next hearing will be on 21 September. The motion also urged NUJ members to ‘speak up for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Turkey’. It also asked that these issues be taken up with the NUJ Parliamentary Group.

Another motion highlighted the case of the Vice News journalists and their local adviser Mohammed Rasool, who last August were arrested and held by the Turkish authorities while reporting on the conflicts in the south-east of Turkey between Kurdish activists and the Turkish military. After a national and international campaign, the two journalists were released after 11 days, but Mohammed remained in captivity until 5 January, when he was finally released on bail. I also updated my EFJ report to the delegate meeting on the IFJ/EFJ Turkey campaign. The EFJ will be holding its general meeting on 25/26 April in Sarajevo. It will be my last meeting, as I come off the EFJ steering committee (board) having served the maximum nine years allowed under the rules.

Syrian journalist killed

On 13 April, Syrian journalist Muhammed Zahir al Shurgat died of his wounds after being shot in the head on Sunday by a masked ISIS gunman in southern Turkey, according to media freedom campaigners.

The International and European Federation of Journalists condemned the outrageous killing and demanded that the Turkish authorities investigate the murder and act to ensure the safety of other journalists. The ISIS-affiliated news agency, Amaq, reported that “a security detachment that belongs to ISIS” shot Zahir al Shurgat, who worked at the Aleppo Today TV channel. Reports claim an ISIS gunman shot him in the head with a silenced pistol outside his workplace in Gaziantep, located near the border with Syria. He was rushed to hospital in a critical condition but later died of his wounds.

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At Turkey’s request Germany to prosecute comedian

The DJV (Deutscher Journalisten-Verband) and Dju in ver.di (Deutsche Journalistinnen und Journalisten Union in ver.di) (EFJ affiliates in Germany) criticised today (15/04/2016) the declaration of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel regarding the request of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to file a criminal complaint against Germany’s most popular comedian Jan Böhmermann.

“This decision of the Chancellor would not have been necessary because the Turkish President Erdogan has already filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor in Mainz” DJV Chair Frank Überall said. Ms Merkel had previously announced that the German Federal Government would give an authorisation to prosecute the comedian.

The DJV chair sees in this declaration the wrong signal to give to the Turkish government. This will also not offset that the Chancellor had addressed the massive violations of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey. “It is good, however, that the Chancellor has asked the abolition of Article 103 in Germany,” said the DJV. The German lese-majeste law prohibits insulting a foreign head of state.

“The situation is even worse since press freedom is not respected in Turkey. Merkel should have put a sign against this move”, said Dju in ver.di (Deutsche Journalistinnen und Journalisten Union in ver.di, EFJ affiliate).

The Turkish government demanded the prosecution of Mr Böhmermann over a satirical poem he read on German television in which he called Turkish President Erdogan a “goat-f*****” and described him as watching child pornography.The German comedian could face up to five years in prison…

According to the New York Times, the law under which this prosecution takes place was passed in 1871, and was also used to silence critics of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran and the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Devised during an era of ‘ruffled majesties’, it allows prosecution in Germany for insulting a foreign leader, but only with the consent of the government. It presented Chancellor Angela Merkel with a dilemma: She could either compromise on cherished German values of free speech or risk relations with a leader she needs to prevent another influx of refugees to Europe. On Friday she chose the former.

The EFJ also condemned the recent blocking by Turkey’s telecommunications authority (TIB) of the Russian news agency Sputnik’s website. “Turkish authorities cannot use administrative decisions to block access to news sites. Those measures are attacking Turkey’s public rights to access information”, said EFJ.

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Ahmet Şık in conversation with Jo Glanville

Polis, LSE and English PEN invite you to an event ‘in conversation’ with journalist  Ahmet Şık, author of the report Journalism Under Siege, a report on press freedom in Turkey.

The evening will be a chance to discuss Ahmet’s report and share insights from an academic perspective on issues of freedom of expression in Turkey.

Wednesday 27 April 2016
Tower 2, 7.01A
London School of Economics
Clement’s Inn
London WC2A 2AZ

As the independent media in Turkey faces an unprecedented crackdown, leading investigative journalist and author Ahmet Şık outlines the challenges for freedom of expression in Turkey and proposes recommendations to address the crisis. Ahmet Şık was awarded the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. He is the first writer to be selected for a residency at the Free Word Centre, on a new programme for international writers and journalists.  The residency is administered by English PEN, Free Word and ARTICLE 19, in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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Hilary Benn replies

I have recently received a reply from Hilary Benn MP Shadow Foreign Secretary who says that he intends to put down a written question to the Foreign Secretary about Can and Erdem’s case. I wrote to both HB and the Foreign Secretary in early February about their case. The reply from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may be found on my previous blog written on 23 March.