The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the deliberate targeting of and attacks against the journalists covering the mass demonstrations in Kadıköy, Istanbul on February 2, by the police.
On February 2, several journalists covering the demonstration in Kadıköy in support of detained Boğaziçi University students were targeted and attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets by riot police. Freelance journalist Elif Akgül was harassed by police, who attempted to detain her while covering the protests. It was also reported that Halk TV reporters Erdinç Yılmaz and Murat Erkmen were injured amidst police interventions against the protestors. Erkmen was hit by rubber bullets on his leg. Kazım Kızıl, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, tweeted that he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. Murat Bay, a reporter for Sendika.org, was also punched by a police officer while recording injuries to protesters. Several other journalists suffered from direct exposure to police tear gas.
The journalists were targeted amidst a series of protests in Turkey in which students at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul have been demonstrating against the recent appointment of a new rector from outside the institution by President Erdoğan. The peaceful protests began on January 4, 2021 in the university campus calling the appointee rector to resign. Following the police raid on the university campus and detention of nearly 160 students on February 1, 2021, the events escalated with police using excessive force on peaceful protesters. After a group called “Boğaziçi Solidarity” made a call for a mass protest in Kadıköy, Istanbul, the police responded with a heavy-handed crackdown, using tear gas and plastic bullets. Several journalists were injured during the police attacks. Videos on social media show the police directly targeting the press covering the demonstration with tear gas.
Kadıköy’deki Boğaziçi Üniversitesi öğrencilerine destek eylemini takip eden meslektaşlarımıza onlarca plastik mermi ve gaz sıkıldı.
Yönetim Kurulu üyemiz Elif Akgül polis tarafından tartaklandı.
Görevini yapan meslektaşlarımıza yapılan muamele kabul edilemez. pic.twitter.com/SnkB9Ch1f3
— DİSK Basın-İş (@Disk_Basin_is) February 2, 2021
Video showing the police aiming pepper spray at journalists / Credit: Disk Basın-İş
Speaking to IPI, Elif Akgül, one of the journalists targeted by the police during the demonstrations, said: “Police were mistreating a protestor, forcefully pushing the protester’s neck down while on the ground. I was trying to record the incident, and then the police warned me to stop. When I did not, the police attempted to arrest me as well.”
Akgül further said that she managed to escape from the hands of police when she was pulled back by her friends. “In general, the police had no due regard whether the person was a journalist”, Akgül said.
As the protests continue, journalists covering the demonstrations are at risk as the police use of excessive force grows.
IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas condemned the attacks against journalists and called on authorities to ensure journalists’ safety to cover the protests. “There is no justification for such attacks and targeting of journalists, who are doing their jobs in providing the public with independent news and information. Instead of targeting members of the press, the police should focus on fulfilling its responsibility to protect journalists’ safety while they cover the demonstrations, which are clearly a matter of public interest”, Akyavas said.
She added: “These alarming reports suggest deliberate violations of press freedom and therefore of the public’s right to access to information. Police in Turkey must cease all aggression against journalists and any acts of violence against the press must be swiftly investigated and the perpetrators held to account.”
IPI, together with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), also submitted an alert to the Council of Europe (CoE) Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. Turkey, as a member state, is responsible for responding to alerts posted on the Platform.