Turkey - More police attacks on media 12 months after unpunished Gezi violence

by Reporters Without Borders | Reporters Without Borders
Tuesday, 3 June 2014 03:56 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporters Without Borders condemns police violence against many journalists during demonstrations throughout Turkey on 31 May to mark the first anniversary of the start of the "Occupy Gezi" protest movement.

After Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned in advance he would permit no demonstration in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protests a year ago, the media were denied access to the square from the start of the afternoon. At least 25,000 policemen and 50 water cannon trucks were deployed in Istanbul alone.

In the course of using teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, the police also targeted journalists. At least ten journalists were attacked and the members of a CNN International crew were detained.

"A year after Gezi, the security forces are still using unjustifiable violence against journalists covering demonstrations," said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

"The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for last year's abuses just encourages the police to continue. It is high time the authorities reined in such practices by abandoning their inflammatory rhetoric and by ensuring that those guilty of violence are punished."

There were at last seven cases of violence against journalists in Istanbul on 31 May. Berna Sahin, Gökhan Biçici of the Dokuz8Haber news website , Zeynep Kuray of the pro-Kurdish news agency ANF and a Halk TV cameraman were attacked by police while covering the protests.

Elif Akgül, a woman reporter for the Bianet news website, was injured by a rubber bullet. Pepper spray was sprayed in the face of Erdal Imrek, a reporter for the left-wing daily Günlük Evrensel, at close range. His colleague, Duygu Ayber, was attacked by police after showing his press card. Police officers insulted Ekin Karaca of Bianet and Sinem Ugurlu of Günlük Evrensel.

In Ankara, a teargas canister struck freelancer Piero Castellano in the chest, causing injuries that needed emergency treatment but were not life-threatening. Four other journalists were beaten with batons while covering clashes between protesters and police.

A CNN International crew was detained on the orders of a senior Istanbul police officer. Correspondent Ivan Watson was reporting live from Taksim Square when he was asked to show the press card he had received from the prime minister's office. As he did not have his passport with him, the police claimed that the press card could have been forged, detaining Watson and his crew for half an hour, until the passport was produced. At one point, a policeman kicked Watson.

Hundreds of protesters were arrested and many were injured by the police violence in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana and other major cities on 31 May.

"Occupy Gezi" was a major anti-government protest movement that began when the authorities used violence to break up a protest against an urban development project in Istanbul. It sparked a wave of demonstrations that the police dispersed with repeated use of violence during the summer of 2013.

At least 153 journalists were physically attacked and 39 others were detained from May to September 2013. Many people have already been put on trial for alleged rioting but an investigation into all the police violence is still under way. At the same time, the government continues to accuse independent and foreign media of plotting against it and siding with "terrorist" groups.

Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.