More than 50 leading international news editors have signed an open letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressing concern that journalists operating in Turkey are increasingly subjected to a "climate of intimidation" in the lead up to this week's elections. They also point to troubling recent incidents, including the ongoing imprisonment of VICE News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool.
The letter, organized by English PEN, was signed by notable editors from across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australasia, and America, including Martin Baron of the Washington Post, Dean Baquet of the New York Times, Kathleen Carroll of the Associated Press, VICE News's Jason Mojica, and VICE Media founder Shane Smith.
Three VICE News journalists were initially detained in Turkey on August 27, while reporting in the country's southeast, and charged with working for a terrorist organization — an entirely baseless and absurd accusation.
While British citizens Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury were released on September 3 and have since returned to the UK, Rasool, 25, has now been in prison for 65 days. He stands charged with working for a terrorist organization, an accusation that has been condemned by rights groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, and PEN International. A petition calling for his release has since gained more than 40,000 signatures.
Press freedom groups have also been stopped from visiting him.
In an interview on October 27 with Feridun Sinirlioglu, the Turkish Interim Foreign Minister, CNN International correspondent Hala Gorani asked about Rasool's continued detention without trial.
"Of course there are concerns and people are talking about it, but I'm telling you there is clear evidence that the guy you are mentioning has direct connection to the terror group which is responsible for a lot of terror activities in Turkey," Sinirlioglu said. He then confirmed the group he is referring to is the PKK.
"But it's difficult for journalists not to be in contact with groups they're covering," Gorani responded. "I guess that's what some might say, if you're covering them you have to be in contact with them." Sinirlioglu denied that Rasool was covering the group. "He is a member of PKK. He is connected to PKK."
In recent months, local journalists seen as critical of Erdogan have been fired or assaulted, had their offices raided, and their broadcasts taken off air. Turkish journalists have called this "the biggest crackdown on press in Turkish history."
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear President Erdogan
We are writing to express our profound concern regarding the deteriorating conditions for press freedom in Turkey. We urge you to use your influence to ensure that journalists, whether Turkish citizens or members of the international press, are protected and allowed to do their work without hindrance.
Over the past two months, attacks and harassment of journalists have increased to an alarming degree. Incidents include: two attacks on the offices of the newspaper Hurriyet, including one supported by a serving Member of the Turkish Parliament; the physical assault of leading journalist Ahmet Hakan Coskun following an organised campaign of threats led by press outlets sympathetic to the government and the President; the raid and seizure of Koza Ipek Media, known for being critical of the President; the detention of three journalists working for Vice News (including Mohammed Ismael Rasool who is still in prison), court cases against journalists and further arrests.
In this climate of intimidation, there is also the worrying rise of a culture of impunity which serves to deprive journalists of the necessary safeguards to do their essential work and leaves them vulnerable to bullying and even physical harm. The government's reluctance, and in some instances failure, to condemn attacks on journalists independent or critical of them is an especially alarming development.
On the eve of an important election on 1 November, which will be of concern and interest to those in Turkey and internationally, the Turkish government's failure to support and to protect journalists where necessary is undermining the country's international reputation and damaging its standing as a democracy. We share widespread concerns that recent events are part of a concerted campaign to silence any opposition or criticism of the government in the run up to the election.
We recognise that Turkey is facing a period of considerable tension. It is at such times that the role of a free press becomes ever more critical. Turkey is a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Turkey's 1982 Constitution makes the rights contained in these international instruments available to its citizens at home. All Turkish state institutions therefore have an obligation to respect and to take steps to uphold the right to freedom of expression. The media has long been recognised in international law as having an essential role to play as a watchdog.
As editors, we are dismayed to see individual journalists, along with publications and media groups, targeted in this way. We are increasingly concerned at the impact on reporting events in Turkey fully and accurately, both at home and abroad.
We urge you to foster a culture where press freedom is fully respected.
Zaffar Abbas, editor, Dawn, Pakistan
Mahfuz Anam, editor, Daily Star, Dhaka
Martin Baron, executive editor, the Washington Post, USA
Dean Baquet, executive editor, The New York Times, USA
Thomas Baumann, editor-in-chief, ARD German Television, Germany
Eniola Bello, managing director/ chief operating officer, THISDAY Newspaper Group, Nigeria
Ole Kristian Bjellaanes, managing editor, Norwegian News Agency (NTB), Norway
Erik Bjerager, editor-in-chief/managing director, Kristeligt Dagblad, Denmark
Mario Calabresi, editor-in-chief, La Stampa, Italy
David Callaway, editor-in-chief, USA Today, US
Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor, the Associated Press, US
Antonio Caño, editor-in chief, El Pais, Spain
Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief, Toronto Star, Canada
Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief English and Malay Newspapers Division, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd, Singapore
Montserrat Domínguez, editorial director, El Huffington Post, Spain
François Dufour, editor-in-chief, PlayBacPresse, France
Alexandra Föderl-Schmid, editor-in-chief, Der Standard, Austria
Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief, BuzzFeed UK
Daniel Hadad, CEO, Grupo Infobae, Argentina
Ferial Haffajee, editor-in-chief, City Press, South Africa
Andrew Holden, editor-in-chief, The Age, Australia
Vinod K Jose, executive editor, Caravan, India
Hiroshi Komatsu, chief editorial writer, the Mainichi Shimbun, Japan
Wolfgang Krach, joint editor-in-chief, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany
Imagen Laguna, former editorial director, El Siglo de Torreon, Mexico
Michèle Léridon, global news director, Agence France-Presse (AFP), France
Gwen Lister, founder, The Namibian, Chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust, Namibia
Lisa MacLeod, head of digital, Times Media, South Africa
Philip Mathew, managing editor, Malayala Manorama, India
Ezio Mauro, editor-in-chief, La Repubblica, Italy
Fred M'membe, editor-in-chief & managing director, Post Newspapers Limited, Zambia
Jason Mojica, VICE News, editor-in-chief, US
Tom Mosoba, managing editor, the Citizen, Tanzania
Soe Myint, editor-in-chief/managing director, Mizzima Media Group, Myanmar
Andrew Nachison, founder, We Media, US
Kaius Niemi, senior editor, Helsingin Sanomat, Finland
Anders Nyland, editor-in-chief, Bergensavisen, Norway
Joseph Odindo, media consultant, former editorial director, Nation Media Group, Kenya
Toyosi Ogunseye, editor, Sunday Punch, Nigeria
Torry Pedersen, editor-in-chief, VG, Norway
Jan-Eric Peters, editor-in-chief, WELT Group and N24 TV, Germany
Javier Garza Ramos, journalist, Mexico
N. Ravi, director, the Hindu, India
Marcelo Rech, executive director of journalism, RBS Group, Brazil
David Remnick, editor, the New Yorker, US
Jim Roberts, Mashable, executive editor & chief content officer, US
Rajdeep Sardesai, consulting editor, India Today Group
Ben Smith, Buzzfeed, editor-in-chief BuzzFeed, US
Shane Smith, founder, VICE Media
Zafar Sobhan, editor, Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh
Elmar Theveßen, deputy editor-in-chief, ZDF German Television, Germany
Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor, The Wire, India
John Yearwood, executive board chairman, International Press Institute