The International Press Institute (IPI) today strongly condemned the 45-day ban on independent newspaper Evrensel by the Turkish Public Advertising Agency (BİK) over a column published on May 5, 2020. This is a record length for a public ad ban on a newspaper so far in Turkey.

Evrensel, an independent newspaper with a focus on labour rights, has been under an indefinite ban since September 2019 after BİK accused it of bulk buying in violation of regulations. Although Evrensel has said the technical problems were corrected, the ban remains in place.

In the meantime, Evrensel continues to receive bans under “press ethics violations”, which includes this latest ban. On May 5, 2020, Evrensel columnist, publisher and well-known human rights activist Ragıp Zarakolu wrote a piece titled “There is no escape from ill fate”, which was also published on news site Artı Gerçek. The column was accused of advocating for a coup due to its comparison of the stance toward political Islam during the governments of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and late Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Erdoğan placed next to Menderes, who was overthrown in Turkey’s 1960 coup d’etat and executed.

This was followed by an investigation prompted by Fahrettin Altun, head of the Communications Directorate of Turkey’s Presidential Office. BİK, which is controlled by the Communications Directorate, then requested a defence from Evrensel. Communications Directorate claimed that the article and the picture used were used to suggest that Erdoğan would meet a similar end as the executed prime minister.

“Despite international scrutiny and protest over its practices, BİK continues to use its power to punish critical media by withholding public advertisements, which are an essential source of funding for media in Turkey”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “BİK’s pattern of slapping bans on independent media while ignoring the routine press ethics violations of pro-government media suggests a clear governmental strategy to stifle dissenting voices.”

“BİK must stop issuing ad bans on Turkey’s critical newspapers and respect its obligation to support a pluralistic media environment in Turkey.”

BİK has been issuing limited public ad bans on newspapers due to “press ethics violations” at an increasing pace. IPI research showed that in the first five months of 2020 alone, BİK issued bans on 39 national and local newspapers totalling 316 days. By comparison, between January and September 2019, BIK issued bans on only six newspapers totalling nine days. Earlier this month, IPI sent a joint letter signed by 20 international organizations to BİK Director Rıdvan Duran asking for greater transparency on the issuing of bans and the distribution of public advertisements in newspapers.