Turkey Journalists Protest 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ANKARA - Recent arrests of journalists in Turkey will have a "chilling
effect" on free speech, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday, and urged
the European Union candidate nation to demonstrate commitment to press
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Authorities say the arrests were part of an investigation into an
alleged plot to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party
government. But critics say the case is being used to hound them, and
the EU and the United States have expressed concern about press freedoms
and democracy in Turkey.
"In the absence of evidence that the police have credible reason to
think Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener are responsible for wrongdoing, their
arrests are a disturbing development," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey
researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"It raises concerns that what is now under investigation is critical reporting rather than coup plots."
Ten journalists and writers, including Sik and Sener, were arrested on
Thursday after police raided their homes at dawn. Three other
journalists were arrested two weeks ago.
All of them are known to be critical of the government.
The case comes at a sensitive time.
Erdogan's AK Party is tipped to easily win a third consecutive term in parliamentary elections in June.
Erdogan has said the arrests had nothing to do with the government but the case threatens to become an election issue.
Thousands of people, many of them journalists, marched in Ankara and
Istanbul on Friday in response to the detentions and chanted
Sinclair-Webb urged the government to take steps to "remove all
restrictions in law on freedom of expression and to demonstrate a
commitment to press freedom and lively critical debate, which together
are the hallmarks of a democracy."
Sinclair-Webb also said that Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised
concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom,
through laws introduced by the Erdogan's AK Party government.
Hundreds of people, from military officers to academics and politicians
are being tried over a series of alleged plots in cases which reflect
deep suspicion between the secular establishment and Erdogan's AK Party.