Rights groups ask Obama, Trudeau to push Turkey to drop charges against journalists

Erol Onderoglu, RSF Turkey representative. (Photo: bianet)

Several press and rights advocacy groups joined Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, the RSF, to ask US and Canadian leaders to urge the Turkish leader to drop “ridiculous” charges against three leading free speech advocates in Turkey.

The RSF asked US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a letter to highlight the case of the press body’s Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu as well as two of his colleagues. The RSF’s letter was submitted before the ongoing NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also attending.

Last month, Turkish authorities arrested Onderoglu, Sebnem Korur Fincanci and Ahmet Nesin. All of them have been champions of free speech for many years in Turkey, where the media freedom has taken a heavy blow in the past few years. The activists were released after spending ten days in jail, and the RSF believes due to international outcry.

The journalists were jailed on charges of spreading terror propaganda after overseeing the publication of Ozgur Gundem for a single day, a symbolic display of solidarity with the newspaper championing Kurdish rights.

“[W]e ask that you urge Turkish President Erdogan to call for all charges against Onderoglu, Fincanci and Nesin to be dropped, to reform Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws that are being used to prosecute journalists and human rights defenders who are merely doing their job, and release all remaining journalists in prison,” the letter, signed by seven rights advocates, said.

The letter argued that the legal proceedings against the journalists are “a direct continuation of the aggressive approach to the media” seen in the cases against Cumhuriyet’s top editors Can Dundar and Erdem Gul. It noted that these cases are indicative of the way the authorities are cracking down on Turkish civil society and are misusing the country’s “draconian anti-terrorism law.”

Along with Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of RSF, Freedom House Executive Vice President Daniel Calingaert and Executive Director of IFEX Annie Game are among the signatories.

Turkey has escalated its relentless crackdown on journalists in the past several years, plummeting in major press freedom rankings and becoming under fire from world leaders and rights groups. More than 30 journalists remain in jail as of today in Turkey, the highest number among OECD countries. The RSF placed Turkey 151st out of 180 countries in the latest press freedom index.

“As one of Turkey’s allies, we are counting on the United States/Canada to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression and information in Turkey,” the letter concluded.

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