Turkish authorities canceled press cards of journalists from critical publications on the very day that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel that he is sensitive to press freedom.
Merkel, who was on a one-day official visit to Istanbul, voiced concerns during a joint press conference over Turkey’s treatment of German journalists working in the country, saying: “The Turkish journalists can work in Germany without any problem. [However] the German journalists here [in Turkey] have not got yet work permission.”
In response, Erdogan said that was not the case, and this was a claim by those who are not happy with “the good relationship” between the two countries.
“My sensitivity to freedom of the press is well-known,” vowed the Turkish president.
On the same day, however, journalists from critical newspapers such as BirGun, Evrensel, and Cumhuriyet, have realized that authorities had canceled their press cards.
The number of cards canceled is currently not known, as they were not officially notified. The journalists can only confirm the status of their press cards through the e-government website.
Merkel’s meeting with Erdogan to discuss multiple topics came amid calls from German politicians for her to raise concerns over what they see as Turkey’s negative stance towards human rights issues and regional conflicts.
Merkel’s only explicit message concerning the human rights record of Turkey came during the inauguration ceremony of the Turkish-German University (TAU), with a particular focus on the “significance of scientific freedom.”
“Science and education improve the creativity and freedom of people. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Curiosity is a delicate little plant that, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom,'” Merkel said.
The German chancellor’s other message came with a closed-door meeting with NGOs during which she was informed about the situation in the country regarding the rule of law, judicial reform package, freedom of expression and press.
All participants emphasized in the meeting with Merkel that the rule of law in Turkey was being undermined, Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told DW Turkish.
The judicial reform package, which Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to introduce, should absolutely ensure the judiciary’s independence, the attendants told Merkel.
Veysel Ok, the Vice President of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) and a free-speech lawyer who has defended many prominent journalists in the country, relayed the situation of German journalists who are detained or facing the refusal of their credentials.
The issuing of credentials allows foreign journalists official permission to work in Turkey, along with the issuing of a residence permit.
Issued by Turkish authorities once a year, journalists who don’t possess the accreditation are not allowed to participate at press conferences and other official state events, thus rendering them useless to perform their jobs properly.
Onderoglu reportedly discussed with Merkel a recent denial of accreditation imposed on the daily Evrensel, saying it was “a matter that clearly demonstrates what kind of outcomes political polarization in Turkey has on the side of the state.”
For quite some time, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government did not renew the credentials of foreign journalists, along with the nationals who work for media outlets critical to it.
“Delays or outright refusals to renew press cards have become tools for government circles to exclude all media organs that don’t fit with their model,” Onderoglu said during the meeting.
According to the World Press Freedom Index report released by the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries.
Nearly 95 percent of the Turkish media is in the hands of pro-government groups.
Turkey is the world’s “undisputed leading jailer of journalists” with more than 120 journalists behind bars — a global record, according to the International Press Institute (IPI), an international press watchdog dedicated to the promotion and protection of press freedom, said in its report issued late in November.
Hundreds more face prosecution on terrorism-related charges, the IP report said, raising concerns about the situation of the media in the country which has not improved since the end of a two-year state of emergency in 2018.
During the state of emergency, declared soon after the July 2016 failed coup, more than 150,000 public servants, including judiciary officials, military officers, police, and academics, were ousted over their alleged links to the failed coup bid.
More than 77,000 people have been jailed.
Shortly after the failed coup, more than 160 journalists were arrested, over 170 media outlets were closed, and nearly 3,000 journalists were left jobless.