RSF calls on Turkey to act quickly to protect journalists after 2 murders in a year

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Turkish authorities to adopt urgent measures for the safety of journalists, with two of them murdered in the past 12 months amid an alarming increase in harassment of members of the press, local media reported on Wednesday.

Ses Kocaeli news website editor Güngör Arslan, 60, who was attacked by a gunman at his office in İzmit on Feb. 19 and succumbed to his injuries soon afterward, was the second journalist to be murdered in Turkey within a year.

The police have arrested 21-year-old Ramazan Özkan on suspicion of murder. They have also arrested nine other suspects, including Ersin Kurt, a lawyer who is said to have offered Özkan money to carry out the killing.

Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s representative in Turkey, said Arslan’s murder “came as no surprise to anyone” because he had constantly received threatening messages without eliciting any reaction from the authorities, “who failed in their duty to protect.”

“The rapid arrest of 10 suspects … suggests there could be a fair trial. We call for both the instigators and the perpetrators of this crime to be severely punished. … The government must act quickly so that journalists who are openly threatened receive the necessary protection and can work safely,” he added.

Aslan had recently published a series of articles accusing Kurt, who is known to be close to the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) –- an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) –- of violating the law governing the professional conduct of lawyers by accepting an İzmit municipal contract.

In social media posts, Aslan had repeatedly said that he felt threatened.

Verbal attacks and political hostility towards outspoken journalists have increased steadily in Turkey since the 2019 local elections, exacerbating the existing climate of impunity and encouraging those suspected of links to corruption to attack local reporters who cover corruption.

The constant threats and pressure on the justice system from high-ranking personalities to arrest troublesome journalists have been dragging the country into a disturbing spiral of violence that is reverberating throughout Turkish society. Local journalists, who often live in the same neighborhood as the people they are investigating, are easy targets and those who have received threats are not protected.

The other journalist who was murdered within the past year was Hazım Özsu, 46, the presenter of a program on Radio Rahmet FM in Bursa, 150 kilometers south of İstanbul. He was gunned down in March 2021 by one of his listeners who didn’t appreciate his comments about “sacred values.” His alleged murderer, Halil Nalcaci, was arrested six days later.

Many of the 40 cases of journalists murdered or missing since the 1990s have gone unpunished, including the 20 or so cases reported in southeastern Turkey between 1990 and 1996, at the height of clashes between the Turkish army and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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