Imprisoned correspondent claims solidarity delegations discriminate among jailed journalists

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Emre Soncan, a journalist who has been imprisoned for 425 days, recently complained about discrimination by the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) among jailed journalists in Turkey.

Soncan, a former correspondent for the Zaman daily, which was closed down by government decree under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, sent a message from prison and drew attention to discriminatory political behavior during solidarity visits to jailed journalists.

Soncan said TGC and the CHP delegations visit only some jailed journalists while completely ignoring others. Underlining that journalists are discriminated against according to their worldview or the institutions they used to work for, Soncan asserted that this attitude cannot be reconciled with democracy and freedom of the press.

The discrimination Soncan was referring to mainly targets journalists who used to work for now-closed media outlets that were affiliated with the Gülen movement. Neither the main opposition party nor journalist organizations visit journalists who worked for the Zaman, Bugün and Meydan dailies, the Cihan news agency, the Samanyolu media group and Aksiyon magazine.

Soncan’s friend and colleague Ahmet Dönmez, who worked for Zaman for over 10 years, shared Soncan’s message on his Twitter account on Tuesday, saying:

“CHP deputies and the Turkish Journalists Association often come to Silivri Prison to visit our colleagues. But they only meet with certain journalists and ignore others based on their political views. The opposition parties do not perform their monitoring and supervision duties equitably, and the association does not fulfill the tasks of solidarity and protection fairly. Is this your understanding of democracy? Is this your understanding of press freedom? I am embarrassed by this primitive discrimination on behalf of democracy, for which I have paid a price and also my job, for which I was jailed.”

Some of the visits paid by CHP and TGC delegations to the journalists in prison are as follows:

CHP İstanbul deputy Barış Yarkadaş visited detained journalists in Silivri and Bakırköy prisons on Sept. 3, 2017. The journalists he visited were Cumhuriyet daily executives, writers, reporters and employees.

The Turkey Journalists Association visited journalists in Silivri Prison on Aug. 24, 2017. TGC Secretary-General Sibel Güneş and TGC board member Oğuz Güven interviewed six jailed journalists from Silivri Prison. The journalists visited by TGC executives were Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnists Kadri Gürsel and Ahmet Şık; Sözcü daily reporter Gökmen Ulu, Habertürk daily former News Coordinator Oğuz Usluer; and now-closed Özgür Gündem editor İnan Kızılkaya.

Veli Ağbaba, the CHP Prison Inspection Commission’s vice-chairperson, and Özgur Özel, CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman, visited detained journalists in Silivri and Bakırköy prisons on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, 2017, respectively. They only visited Murat Sabuncu, Akın Atalay, Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Şık and Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu from Cumhuriyet; Gökmen Ulu and Mediha Olgun from Sözcü; and Deniz Yücel, the representative of Die Welt Turkey. However, this delegation did not visit any of the journalists who used to work for media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement.

The board of directors of the TGC visited the executives and writers of Cumhuriyet in Silivri Prison. TGC Chairman Turgay Olcayto, TGC Secretary-General Sibel Güneş, TGC General Treasurer Gülseren Ergezer Güver and TGC board member Oğuz Güven met with and interviewed Cumhuriyet executives and writers Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel and Ahmet Şık separately.

CHP Bursa deputy Orhan Sarıbal visited former journalist and CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu in Maltepe Prison. Then he went to Silivri Prison and interviewed writers and administrators from Cumhuriyet  Ahmet Şık, Kadri Gürsel, Akın Atalay and Murat Sabuncu. Sarıbal also visited Sözcü reporter Gökmen Ulu in Silivri Prison.

CHP Denizli deputy Kazım Arslan visit Cumhuriyet columnists and executives Kadri Gürsel, Akın Atalay, Mehmet Murat Sabuncu, Güray Tekin Oz, Turhan Gunay, Musa Kart, Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku, Hakan Karasinir, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Yusuf Emre İper and Ahmet Şık in Silivri Prison on July 13, 2017.

A CHP delegation consisting of deputy chairperson Veli Ağbaba, deputies Şanal Sarıhan, Necati Yılmaz and Nurettin Demir visited the Dicle News Agency’s (DİHA) jailed news director Ömer Çelik, former editor of the Diken online news outlet Tunca Öğreten and the Birgün daily’s accounting officer, Mahir Kanaat, on April 30, 2017.

CHP deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Utku Çakırözer visited Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel and writers and administrators from Cumhuriyet in Silivri Prison on March 3, 2017.

CHP deputies Atila Sertel and Tuncay Özkan visited the Cumhuriyet daily writers and executives in Silivri Prison on Feb. 13, 2017.

CHP Deputy Chairperson Veli Ağbaba and CHP deputy Nurettin Demir, members of the CHP Prison Inspection Commission, visited jailed writers and executives from Cumhuriyet in Silivri Prison on Nov. 14, 2016.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 281 journalists and media workers were in jail as of Sept. 26, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 256 were arrested pending trial, while only 25 journalists have been convicted and are serving time in Turkish prisons. Detention warrants are outstanding for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled. (Stockholm Center for Freedom)

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