Freedom of the press in turkey: questions unwelcome

Deniz Yucel, ex-Tazler and "Welt" correspondent, is under fire in Turkey. He had asked Merkel about the human rights situation in the country.

Critical questions unwanted at Monday’s press conference. Photo: ap

Welt’s German correspondent for Turkey, Deniz Yucel, has become the victim of a state-orchestrated campaign. All pro-government media such as Yeni Șafak, Yeni Akit, Star and Sabah insulted the journalist, who had worked for taz until last April, in the last two days, often word for word, as a "PKK sympathizer" and a "religious enemy."

The occasion: Deniz Yucel dared to ask a critical question during the joint press conference of Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday afternoon. Among other things, he quite rightly wanted to know from Merkel why she no longer wanted to know anything about her criticism of the lack of freedom of opinion and the human rights situation in Turkey, which she voiced just over a year ago, and why she remained silent about the brutal actions of the army and police against the Kurds in the country.

Merkel talked her way out of it. She said that the situation in German-Turkish relations had changed. Davutoglu, on the other hand, attacked Yucel: That was not a question at all, he said, but a political statement. But the fact that Yucel could ask such a question at all was proof that there was indeed freedom of the press in Turkey.

On Tuesday morning, Davutoglu followed up in an address to his parliamentary group. He announced that Yucel has Turkish citizenship as well as German. "This journalist tried to provoke and blame Turkey. Fine, anyone can ask, but they will get the answer they deserve."

The answer is a smear campaign against Yucel by the pro-government media. "Look who this PKK journalist is that Davutoglu so confidently rebuked," Sabah wrote, referring to an interview Yucel conducted last year with a PKK leader in northern Iraq. Another online portal called him an enemy of religion, which is almost a threat.

Turkish government against foreign correspondents

The attacks on Yucel are another indication that the Turkish government, having all but muzzled the domestic opposition press, is now taking tougher action against foreign correspondents. The first to be targeted are journalists who hold Turkish citizenship and work for foreign media.

Before Yucel, these were Selin Girit, a BBC employee, and, some time ago, Dilek Zaptcıoglu, who worked for the Financial Times Deutschland at the time. Last year, however, Hasnain Kazim was also attacked by Spiegel in the government press for allegedly attacking President Erdogan.

However, it does not stop at campaigns. For the first time in more than twenty years, the Turkish government hinted this year that it might deny press accreditation to some correspondents.

The Norwegian colleague of Aftenposten, who had only come to Turkey in the fall, has now had to leave the country and will report on the Middle East from Amman in the future. Three German journalists, including Yucel, are still waiting for their accreditation, which they applied for last year.

Deniz Yucel himself did not want to comment on the campaign. On his Facebook page, he wrote that many colleagues in Turkey were far worse off than he was.