OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING NOTE – Turkey and Bahrain
Spokesperson: Rupert Colville
We would like to add our voice to those both within and outside Turkey who are expressing serious concerns about the recent imprisonment of journalists in Turkey.
On 3 March, nine Turkish journalists and writers were detained by the police on accusations of involvement in the so-called “Ergenekon” conspiracy, which allegedly was designed to overthrow the Turkish government. They were detained under an order from an Istanbul court, which authorized their police detention for questioning “on suspicion of being members of the Ergenekon terrorist organization and of spreading hatred and enmity among the population.”
Those detained included Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, two prominent journalists known for critical reporting on the Turkish criminal justice system and police. Sener works for the daily newspaper Milliyet, and Sik is the co-author of a book about the Ergenekon investigation and trials. The others detained were Professor Yalçın Küçük, a writer and a prominent critic of the governing party, who is already on trial for alleged connections with Ergenekon, and six employees of odaTV.com which is an opposition news website (Sait Çakir, Dogan Yurdakul, Mumtaz Idil, Coskun Musluk, Müyesser Yildiz and Iklim Bayraktar).
After being brought before the prosecutors and formally charged with being members of the Ergenekon organisation, Sik and Sener were imprisoned on Sunday, 6 March, to await trial. Küçük and four more journalists were imprisoned on the following day.
The investigation is subject to a secrecy order, so the full details of the alleged evidence justifying the investigation and detention of the journalists is not publicly available. It is not yet clear whether those detained are under investigation for their legitimate activities relating to their professional duties as journalists and broadcasters, or whether there is other evidence against them unrelated to their work as journalists.
We call on Turkey to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with international standards, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to ensure that journalists are not prosecuted and imprisoned because of their journalistic work and critical reporting.
If there are genuine reasons to suppose that any journalists have committed crimes outside the scope of their journalistic work, then those reasons should be transparent to the journalists themselves, to their defence lawyers and to the rest of us. Otherwise, inevitably, suspicions will continue to mount that these arrests are politically motivated.
Bahrain (in response to a question about whether the arrival of Saudi Arabian forces in Bahrain might have a negative impact):
The situation in Bahrain remains tense. In light of the arrival of Saudi troops, the Secretary-General appealed last night for restraint, prevention of further violence and called for a meaningful and broad-based national dialogue. We echo those calls.
There are worrying reports that a very large number of people were injured after protests at the weekend, especially on Friday and Sunday.
A brief update on the three individuals we mentioned last Friday, against whom there was a campaign on social networking sites inciting violence: interestingly, shortly after that briefing was reported by journalists, the offending social media content was removed. However, the three individuals report they continued to receive telephone phone calls threatening them. These calls were very similar in content, followed more or less the same pattern, and appear to have been scripted.
On a more positive note, the Government of Bahrain has sent us a letter, saying it “condemns and deplores all violent threats made towards any individual and will be investigating the matter accordingly.” We welcome that commitment, and of course stress that it needs to be seen to be – and to be — a transparent, and preferably independent investigation.