Two Turkish journalists arrested this week over their reports about arms supplies to Syria urged the European Union not to compromise on human rights and freedoms to reach an agreement with Turkey to help stem flows of migrants to Europe.
European diplomats have been measured in their criticism of media freedom in Turkey and President Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, recognizing the West needs Ankara’s help on the migrant crisis and as an ally in the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS).
European and Turkish officials hope EU leaders and Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will sign a deal to ease the migrant crisis on Sunday.
Writing from Silivri prison near Istanbul, Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, which is left-wing, secular and often critical of the government, and senior editor Erdem Gul said in a letter to EU leaders they hope Sunday’s meeting results in a lasting solution, adding:
“We would also like to hope that your desire to end the crisis will not stand in the way of your sensitivity towards human rights, freedom of press and expression as fundamental values of the Western world.”
In May, Cumhuriyet published photos of arms that it said were transferred to Syria in trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
The photos showed steel containers filled with mortar shells and ammunition underneath boxes of medicine.
The daily also published a video showing the containers on trucks being opened and searched by gendarmes.
It said the trucks in question were intercepted by gendarmes on two occasions in January 2014 after prosecutors received tip-offs that they were illegally carrying arms to Syria.
There have been allegations that the arms were going to extremist groups fighting against the Syrian regime.
Ankara, on the other hand, insisted the trucks were carrying aid to Syrian Turkmen and branded their interception an act of “treason” and “espionage.”
The two editors went to the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul on Thursday to testify. Prosecutor İrfan Fidan requested that the editors be arrested on Thursday, after which they were referred to the 7th Penal Court of Peace.
The court decided to arrest Dündar and Gül on Thursday amid an outpour of support for the veteran journalists from their colleagues, intellectuals, lawyers and politicians.
Dündar and Gül were taken to Silivri Prison after the court’s decision. “Don’t worry, these are medals of honor for us,” Dündar was quoted by Cumhuriyet’s website as saying on Thursday night.
Reactions snowball after arrests
Reactions continued to pour in from across the country after the court decision to arrest Dündar and Gül.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the court’s decision marked a “black day” for democracy and freedom.
Kılıçdaroğlu said it clearly shows how afraid the government is of the MİT truck story. Saying the decision is unlawful, Kılıçdaroğlu stated the arrest is a decision made upon the orders of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
CHP İstanbul deputy Mahmut Tanal also said the arrests mark a “coup” staged against the Press.
Media Ethics Council president Halit Esendir said the arrests have clearly shown there is no longer media freedom in Turkey.
The İzmir Journalists’ Association said the court did not just arrest the two journalists but also journalism in Turkey as well.
The Turkish Journalists Federation stated the arrest of the two editors does not comply with democracy.
Press Council President Pınar Türenç said no one can place people’s right to information and freedom of expression behind bars, emphasizing, “The power of pens cannot be restricted at all.”
The Journalists and Writers Foundation said critical journalists are being targeted by the government and Silivri Prison has been turned into a “concentration camp” for journalists who are not pro-government.
Turkish Journalists Association President Nazmi Bilgin defined the arrest of the two editors as an “eclipse of reason,” saying Silivri Prison, where many journalists have been detained in recent years, will turn into a democracy museum one day.
Zaman Editor-in-Chief Abdülhamit Bilici expressed his concern over increasing pressure on the free media and the regression of democracy in the country.
The Human Rights Association the right of journalists to freedom of expression has been violated and it is no longer possible to talk about the existence of legal security for anyone in Turkey.