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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Turkey issues Interpol 'red notice' for prominent journalists in exile

The move comes as part of Ankara's broader crackdown on the press and free speech

Turkish journalist Can Dundar speaks at the authors' forum 'Blue Sofa' during the book fair 'Frankfurter Buchmesse 2018' in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 13 October 2018. EPA
Turkish journalist Can Dundar speaks at the authors' forum 'Blue Sofa' during the book fair 'Frankfurter Buchmesse 2018' in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 13 October 2018. EPA

Journalism in Turkey has come under renewed scrutiny after an Istanbul court issued an international arrest warrant for two prominent writers living overseas.

In a hearing against journalists linked to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, the 27th High Criminal Court said it would request the issuance of Interpol “red notices” for Can Dundar and Ilhan Tanir. The order notifies all Interpol member states that the individual has pending arrest warrants.

Mr Dundar, the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief, and Mr Tanir, its ex-Washington correspondent, currently live in Germany and the US respectively.

In April, more than a dozen Cumhuriyet staff were convicted of supporting groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front and the Gulenist movement, which Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt. All three are listed as terrorist organisations in Turkey.

Mr Dundar, Turkey’s most prominent journalist-in-exile, dismissed the court’s demand for the notices, which are issued by Interpol at the request of a member state, and he said the agency would disregard it because “they know the real intentions” of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish courts have called for Mr Dundar to be extradited on at least two occasions since he went to Europe in the wake of his May 2016 conviction for revealing state secrets in a Cumhuriyet article documenting the transport of arms to Syria by Turkey’s spy agency.

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Mr Tanir edits the English output of the Ahval news website, which was banned in Turkey in March.

Henri Barkey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in the US, warned that they faced the risk of arrest in countries willing to acquiesce to Ankara’s demands.

“The truth is that they have to be careful about where they travel,” said Prof Barkey, who faces an arrest warrant issued in November over claims he was involved in plotting the coup.

“There’s a possibility of bilateral warrants being used so they should be careful. Turkey is playing games – it’s a way of putting pressure on them, saying ‘We’re here and we won’t leave you alone.’”

Since the July 2016 attempted coup, Turkey has emerged as the world’s top jailer of journalists with 73 behind bars in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reporters Without Borders places the country in 157th place for press freedom out of 180 nations. The Turkey Purge website says more than 300 journalists were among tens of thousands of people jailed after the failed coup while 189 media outlets were closed down.

Among the latest to face criminal charges over their reporting are two current Cumhuriyet journalists. Alican Uludag and Duygu Guvenc have been accused of denigrating the judiciary by suggesting the release of US pastor Andrew Brunson earlier this month was linked to a back-room deal with Washington.

Despite the number of journalists languishing in prison, Mr Erdogan has insisted that freedom of expression is protected under his stewardship.

“Turkey numbers among the world’s leading countries in matters of press freedom, the most advanced communications technologies, social media, the internet and journalism,” he said on Journalists’ Day in January. As well as crackdowns on journalists, the government has at times barred access to social media sites including Twitter and YouTube.

A Turkish journalist shows his press card as he covers his mouth with a black ribbon outside a courthouse in Istanbul. AP
A Turkish journalist shows his press card as he covers his mouth with a black ribbon outside a courthouse in Istanbul. AP

“Despite having, from time to time, suffered personal harm from the media over my political life, I have fought to enable different voices and different cultures to express themselves and voice their ideas with ease, and will continue to do so.”

The closure or takeover of opposition media outlets has given Mr Erdogan a near-monopoly of the media with around 90 per cent of TV stations and newspapers run by pro-government figures.

In March, Turkey’s largest independent media group, which included CNN Turk, Hurriyet newspaper and Dogan News Agency, was bought out by Demiroren Holding. At the time, journalist Kadri Gursel said the purchase had placed most of the media “under the direct political control of President Erdogan.”

The death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul has highlighted the threat to media workers around the world. Much of the reporting of the case around the world has been based on reports in Turkey’s pro-government newspapers such as Sabah and Yeni Safak that rely on anonymous security sources.

Despite these outlets’ longstanding reputation for running far-fetched claims, their reporting on the Khashoggi case has been widely repeated in leading Western newspapers.

“The fact that the New York Times and others haven’t questioned the veracity of their sources is very cavalier,” Prof Barkey said. “Yeni Safak and Sabah are papers that run outlandish stories.”