The United Nations human rights arm today called on Turkey to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression, voicing serious concerns at the recent imprisonment of journalists on charges of involvement in a conspiracy allegedly designed to overthrow the Government.
“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,” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva, noting the secrecy order surrounding the investigation.
“Otherwise, inevitably, suspicions will continue to mount that these arrests are politically motivated,” he said, calling on the Government to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and ensure that journalists are not prosecuted and imprisoned because of their journalistic work and critical reporting.
On 3 March, nine Turkish journalists and writers were detained by the police on accusations of involvement in a conspiracy and detained under an order from an Istanbul court authorizing 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. Mr. Sener works for the daily newspaper Milliyet, and Mr. Sik is the co-author of a book about the Ergenekon investigation and trials.
The others detained were Professor Yalçin 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 prosecutors and formally charged with being members of the Ergenekon organisation, Mr. Sik and Mr. Sener were imprisoned on 6 March, to await trial. Mr. 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,” Mr. Colville said. “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.”