Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the continuing arbitrary arrests and escalating violence against journalists covering anti-government demonstrations in Turkey.
At least eight journalists were briefly arrested yesterday in Istanbul. Violence spread after the police retook Istanbul’s Gezi Park on the evening of 15 June. Media personnel were kept at a distance from the police operation and access to Taksim Square was denied to all journalists who could not produce a press card.
“We are very disturbed by the increasingly systematic nature of the police violence, which seems more like revenge than law enforcement,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is unacceptable for journalists to be deliberately targeted, prevented from working and beaten by the police officers who are supposed to protect them.
“The illegal arrests must stop at once, and investigations must be carried out in order to punish those responsible for the abuses. Officials must also clearly condemn this behaviour and stop scapegoating the media in their speeches because it gives the impression that they are encouraging these excesses.”
Reporter Gökhan Biçici and cameraman Okan Altunkara of pro-Kurdish IMC TV, Dogan New Agency reporters Ferhat Uludaglar and Ugur Can, cameraman Emre Fidan of nationalist TV channel Ulusal Kanal and Aslan Sahan, a reporter for the Aydinlik daily newspaper, were arrested yesterday while covering clashes between police and demonstrators in various Istanbul neighbourhoods. Police grabbed Biçici’s gas mask and iPad and dragged him along the ground. According to the latest information, he is still in police custody, as is Daniele Stefanini, an Italian freelancer who was injured and arrested yesterday.
Many journalists had their photos and video footage deleted by the police. Cem Türkel, a photographer for the evening newspaper Aksam, for example, was forced to delete the photos he had just taken of clashes in the district of Harbiye, near Taksim Square, on the night of 15 June.
A British freelance journalist told Reporters Without Borders he was arrested and held by police for three hours last night in the district of Osmanbey. The police only returned his camera and microphone after deleting all of his photos and recordings. They did not return his notebook or press card.
Police hit photographer Eylem Düzyol and her colleague Fulya Atalay with batons as Düzyol was taking photos in Istanbul yesterday. “We had been working within view of the police since the morning,” she told Reporters Without Borders. “They knew perfectly well that we were journalists and I even showed my press card to convince them. But they still kept hitting us.” They plan to file a complaint.
Today’s Zaman journalist Abdullah Ayasun reported on Twitter that police hit him in the face yesterday and pinned him to the ground for three minutes, “almost breaking my arm” although he showed them his press card.
Foreign journalists are not being spared. Russian reporter Arkady Babchenko was violently arrested while photographing police vehicles on Taksim Square on 14 June and was held overnight. He is now having trouble walking because of the blows he received to his legs.
Alexandra Bondarenko, a reporter for Russia Today TV’s Spanish-language service was hit by a rubber bullet while covering clashes on the evening of 15 June. Paulo Moura of the Portuguese daily Publico was beaten by police yesterday.
According to some accounts, police also deliberately fired teargas at journalists covering the past weekend’s protests near Kizilay Square in Ankara.
The Turkish Association of Journalists (TGC) asked Istanbul’s governor and senior police officers to put a stop to the arrests of journalists. The association also said that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats against the media “are endangering the safety of journalists.”
Reporters Without Borders shares this concern. During each of his speeches to supporters during the weekend, Erdogan accused the international media of biased coverage and promised to punish all those who indulge in “provocation and disinformation” in the media and online social networks.
The media casualty toll keeps on rising. Reporters Without Borders has learned that American reporter Jake Price of BBC in Pictures was hit by a projectile while taking photos near Gezi Park on 11 June.
The Islamist newspaper Zaman’s news director, Ibrahim Dogan, was admitted to Taksim Hospital the same day with a broken arm after being hit by a teargas canister fired by the police.
Cihan Acar of Zaman and Can Sisman of Milliyet were also injured by teargas canisters. Acar’s arm was broken, while Sisman sustained a gash to the back of his head that needed stitches. Two Canadian journalists with CBC, Sasa Petricic and Derek Stoffel, were held for an entire day after being arrested on Taksim Square on 11 June.
Photo by: Adem Altan / AFP