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The International Press Institute (IPI) and key members of the European Parliament’s cross-party Turkey Forum have signed a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urging him to ensure journalist safety following the publication of two separate lists targeting individual journalists.

On June 26, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the nationalist MHP party, published the names of 70 journalists, academics, and pollsters, including IPI Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel, “thanking” them for their “constant slander” during Turkey’s recent election campaign. Many of the individuals on the list had published figures suggesting that the MHP would receive only around 4 percent of votes in the June 24 poll. In fact, the party passed the 10 percent threshold to gain representation in Turkey’s parliament and will form an alliance with Erdoğan’s AKP party.

Today’s letter urged Erdoğan to publicly condemn Bahçeli’s list, noting that “a statement by a party leader of his stature and popularity can lead to attacks on these journalists by his followers”.

In a potentially even more serious development, on June 29 a “hit list” containing the names of the owner and six journalists with the newspaper Karar was published on the Instagram account belonging to imprisoned crime boss Alaattin Çakıcı. Currently serving multiple sentences for murder and assault, Çakıcı called for his followers to “punish on sight” the journalists, who subsequently left their positions at the paper and were given police protection. Notably, Çakıcı is considered an ally of Bahçeli, who has called for him to be pardoned.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi, together with MEPs Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP), co-chair of the Turkey Forum, and Vice-Chairs Javi López (S&P), Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA) and Jordi Solé i Ferrando (Greens/EFA) called on Erdoğan to ensure the safety of the journalists on the list and bring “anyone aiding this act of incitement to violence against journalists” to justice. The letter called for the protection of all of Turkey’s journalists, urging the president to allow them the independence and freedom of expression that is requisite for them to do their jobs in securing the peoples’ right to receive informed and critical news reporting.

IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator Caroline Stockford commented: “We are closely monitoring the ever-worsening press freedom situation in Turkey and we will continue to insist that the authorities stand by their obligations under international human rights law. Independent journalism is vital to democracy and no journalist should work in fear of violent reprisals for reporting the news.”

The full text of the letter follows below.

His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Republic of Turkey
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi
06560 Beştepe, Ankara

July 17, 2018

Your Excellency,

At the outset we would like to congratulate you on the success of your party in the recent parliamentary elections. Despite the great challenges for press freedom in Turkey, we remain hopeful for a new era of support for independent journalism and freedom of the media in Turkey.

We are writing to you today to express our serious concern over the recent release of two lists of journalists’ names, one of which contained a direct incitement to violence against them.

In the first list, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of MHP party, which is backing your AKP party in parliament, singled out 70 journalists who he claims defamed the MHP during the campaign. We have read Mr. Bahçeli’s statement and find it very unsettling and disturbing.

A statement by a party leader of his stature and popularity can lead to attacks on these journalists by his followers. We did not expect such a statement from a seasoned leader who has committed to upholding democratic values.

Turkey, as you know, is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Both these international instruments provide for freedom of media and freedom of expression. Article 19 of the Covenant and the Article 10 of the European Convention protect the right of journalists and all citizens to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities.

Additionally, the Turkish Constitution guarantees the right to “receive and impart information and ideas without interference from official authorities” (Article 26, para 1) and states that “nor shall anyone be blamed or accused on account of his thoughts and opinions” (Article 25, para 1).

Mr. Bahçeli’s statement contravenes these international commitments and Turkey’s own constitution.

We believe that an independent and critical press is an essential element of a democracy. It functions as a watchdog and keeps people informed on important issues. Political leaders should be prepared for public scrutiny by the media and not make attempts to silence their critics.

Therefore, we would request you to issue a statement that you and your party condemn the publication of this list by Mr. Bahçeli and that you make clear that any attempts to intimidate journalists, especially in a manner that could lead to violence against them, are unacceptable.

Another disturbing development is the hit list that appeared on the dedicated Instagram account of convict Alaattin Çakıcı. The six journalists of Karar newspaper mentioned in Çakıcı’s list are now living in fear due to Çakıcı’s reputation and the crimes for which he is currently serving several prison sentences.

We note positively that on July 3, 2018 your spokesperson, Mahir Ünal, reiterated the AKP’s condemnation of the list:

“In the instance of Alaattin Çakıcı we stated that such threats to the media are unacceptable. We said that it needs to be established to whom those words are attributable. We stated that, if such a case arises, it will be a matter for the judiciary. We always support freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But we also state that the rights of the press will not allow the door to terrorism to be pushed ajar. We will not allow this. The AK Party will show no mercy to (those who) openly threaten the freedoms of expression and the media.”

In light of this statement, we request that your government continue to provide police protection for the journalists named in this list and ensure their safety. We also urge you to ensure that a full investigation into the source of the list is carried out and that anyone aiding this act of incitement to violence against journalists is brought to justice.

In your new term as President of Turkey, your showing support and respect for independent journalists will go a long way in upholding democratic values in Turkey.

We look forward to your response and we thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director, International Press Institute

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP), co-chair of the European Parliament Turkey Forum

Javi López (S&D), vice-chair of the European Parliament Turkey Forum

Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA), vice-chair of the European Parliament Turkey Forum

Jordi Solé i Ferrando (Greens/EFA), vice-chair of the European Parliament Turkey Forum