Crackdown in Turkey’s Kurdish south-east turns journalists into ‘terrorists’
Refik Tekin, an award-winning photographer and video journalist, had been covering the curfew in the predominantly Kurdish city of Cizre, south-east Turkey, for more than a month when a report by a pro-government news agency turned him into a terrorist.
He accompanied a group carrying white flags that wanted to retrieve bodies and injured people from a nearby street when security forces suddenly opened fire, wounding nine and killing two, including a member of the city council. Tekin was shot in the leg but kept filming. A police officer later dragged him along the ground to an ambulance and shouted at him : ‘You are all terrorists, you will see the strengths of the Turks!’ “This struck me as an especially strange thing to say. Am I not a citizen of this country?” said Tekin.
The state-run Anadolu agency described the incident as a clash between security forces and terrorists:
“Clashes between security forces and terrorists erupted in the Cizre district of Şirnak province. Three terrorists were neutralised and nine others wounded. There was an attempt to [help the wounded terrorists escape] with funeral cars and ambulances belonging to the Cizre municipality. An alleged cameraman working for a TV channel was reported to be among the injured.”
Tekin was accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. The charges have since been dropped, but the pressure remains.
Coverage of the conflict in Turkey’s Kurdish south-east is an ever-growing challenge for journalists. Many pro-Kurdish news sites and Twitter accounts were closed following the breakdown last summer of a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ party, or PKK. Several Turkish journalists have been fired by their newspapers for reporting on the region.
Reporters for pro-Kurdish outlets are routinely detained and face threats of violence and harassment by security forces. According to the CPJ, at least seven Kurdish journalists were arrested in Turkey between 1 December and mid-February. Two reporters working for the pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency were detained in April, and one agency intern, Ziya Ataman, was formally arrested on terrorism charges.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, insists that the press in Turkey is among the most free in the world, but very few would agree. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently said in a letter to Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, that press freedom was “under siege”, pointing to “increasing numbers of journalists in jail, violence against journalists on the rise, and critical news outlets officially harassed or obstructed”. Turkey now ranks 151st among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
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