The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned a directive sent on Tuesday by Turkey’s Security General Directorate (EGM) to all police departments in the country requesting officers to prevent audio and visual recordings of protests and public demonstrations. The note circulated is seen as a clear move to prevent citizens and journalists from reporting on human rights violations.
The Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) in Turkey published the directive by the head of EGM, former governor Mehmet Aktaş, sent on April 27, 2021, which instructs police officers to “take necessary action” to stop those who are taking audio-visual recording of public demonstrations in case the officers are being prevented from performing their duty. The official note caused a public outcry as journalists and citizens fear that the human rights violations and recent instances of disproportionate police action against protesters will be left undocumented. Some local media outlets that have built their work primarily on citizen journalism have raised concerns that their work will be heavily affected.
IPI spoke to Gürkan Özturan, executive manager of Dokuz8 News, who described the directive as having “absolutely no good intentions and is open for abuse not only through prevention of citizen journalism but also professional journalism”.
“The governing alliance’s domination over conventional media has forced the society in Turkey to practice their right to access information through alternative platforms, primarily through digital media, which heavily relies on citizen journalism. In recent days we have seen scenes of horror in environmental protests or even during the May 1 International Workers’ Day where police officers were recorded torturing people on camera”, Özturan said. “These scenes have been becoming more and more frequent in recent years and today we see that the General Directorate of Security is attempting to issue a blanket ban to prevent any evidence to be formed against the public officers that are violating the constitution and committing crimes upon orders to intervene in protests which is a constitutionally guarded right of the citizens.”
“What this directive seems like it aims to do is to pave the grounds for hiding excessive use of force in coming days from the public eye”, he added referring to the upcoming Workers Day on May 1.
As the document cites that the official justification for the directive was the protection of personal life and privacy under the Law on the Protection of Personal Data, the official note requests of police officers “to take any necessary action for those who resort to take audio and visual recordings during public demonstrations while officials perform their duty if and when the legal prerequisites were met”. The document also cited the Law of Police Duty and Authorities that grants police the authority to take persons who have resisted the authorities or prevented police from performing their duty from the area or take them into custody and initiate necessary legal actions.
İçişleri Bakanlığından 1 Mayıs öncesi personelini garantiye alma genelgesi.
Personeliniz görevini ifa ederken işkence yaparsa kayıt da alınır, delil de toplanır. Çünkü tekrarla, işkence yapmak görev sınırlarınızda değil, suçtur! pic.twitter.com/AFiARI20yT
— ÇHD İstanbul Şube (@CHDistanbul) April 29, 2021
“This statement is a clear attempt to prevent citizens and journalists reporting on serious rights violations in a country where civil and social rights of its citizens have been regularly violated by the authorities. Therefore, it is vital for its citizens and journalists to continue covering public demonstrations and documenting all rights violations”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavaş said. “Police cannot prevent journalists from reporting on issues that are of public interest. On the contrary they must ensure that journalists can safely cover public events and provide the public with factual news.”
Turkish police have been accused on many occasions of using disproportionate force against protestors and journalists covering public demonstrations. The most recent example was the Turkish riot police using plastic bullets and tear gas against protestors during a demonstration in Kadıköy, Istanbul in support of detained Boğaziçi University students. Several journalists were targeted, attacked and injured by the police while covering the mass protests.