The IPI global network condemns the intimidation and violence used by the Turkish police against two female journalists who were covering a demonstration in Istanbul. Journalists must be free to cover protests in public places. IPI urges Turkish authorities to take immediate steps to end police aggression against journalists and hold those responsible for such actions to account.
On January 14, 2021, journalists Yadigar Aygün and Tuba Apaydın were detained by the police while covering the Enes Kara protests in İstiklal, Istanbul. Youth organizations were marching to protest the death of Enes Kara, a second-year student at the Fırat University Faculty of Medicine who was reportedly driven to suicide in the dormitory.
Aygün, who works for Gazete Karinca, and Apaydın, a correspondent for New Democracy, were reporting on the protests and taking pictures of the young demonstrators. However, police then attempted to prevent the journalists from watching and documenting the demonstration, the journalists told IPI. When Aygün and Apaydın refused to give way, they were violently detained. Officers reportedly pulled Aygün’s hair and took the journalists’ phones. Although the pair stated that they were journalists, the police continued to detain them with reverse handcuffs. When detained, they were not allowed to speak to their lawyers. After staying a whole night in a detention vehicle, the journalists were released on January 15.
“The violent treatment of journalists covering protests in public places is unacceptable”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said. “We strongly condemn the violence that the police have used against Apaydın and Aygün, especially considering the fact that they identified themselves as journalists. The journalists were covering an important public issue, and the protest took place in the public space. It is also extremely troubling that the journalists’ phones were seized and that they were not allowed to speak to their lawyers. Authorities must take all relevant steps to redress all violations that occurred in this case.”
Speaking to IPI, Apaydın said was following a press briefing by the youth organization when the police started beating the students. Directly after Apaydın started videotaping this, a police officer shouted at her and insulted her. “After I reacted to this verbal violence, I was prevented from following the news and I was violently taken into custody”, she said. “They tried to take my phone from which I was taking the video. My phone was damaged and its screen cracked.” According to Apaydın, the 83 people who were taken into custody were kept in the detention vehicle until morning. “Our needs were not met in the detention vehicle and we were kept in handcuffs for hours. I was prevented from telling my family and colleagues that I was detained.”
Aygün said she experienced similar aggression, recounting that she was covering the protest when she fell over a police blockade and was pulled over by a police officer. “I immediately stated that I am a journalist. Despite this, they detained me with reverse handcuffs”, she told IPI. The police also pulled her hair. “I tried to explain that I had heart surgery and that I had a problem with my heart so that they (would stop) their violent practices. The police replied to me, ‘What are you doing here if you are a heart patient?’”
Aygün condemns the violent treatment she received and the way the police treated her equipment. “My phone was taken from me, and I am scared of what has been done to it. The police tried to collect evidence illegally. Although my lawyers asked about me, they were not informed. The newspaper I work for was not informed either.”
The journalists are still recovering from the violent treatment they faced. “I have bruises on my knees. The pain continues in my arms and hands. My heart aches. I couldn’t do my job for four days after the protest”, Aygün said. Apaydın told IPI she still has muscle and bone pain. Her phone is damaged. She has filed a complaint about the police violence she experienced.
The pressure from the police will not stop the journalists from continuing their work, Aygün said. “We will continue to do our best to report wherever there is news and to bring the truth to society. In every way, the government can try to prevent the events from being heard; however, we think that if there is a free press, a free society can exist.”