Turkey ‘using virus curbs to target media’

Turkey ‘using virus curbs to target media’
Demonstrators, wearing face masks for protection against COVID-19, struggle with police in Istanbul during Friday’s May Day rally. Several protesters were held. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2020

Turkey ‘using virus curbs to target media’

Turkey ‘using virus curbs to target media’
  • Turkey is considered one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s crackdown on media coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic has been condemned by Amnesty International in a special report ahead of World Press Freedom Day.

The COVID-19 crisis has added a new layer to attacks on media freedom with journalists across the country targeted under the guise of combating misinformation, the human rights group warned.

In its annual report released ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Amnesty said: “Turkey’s crackdown on real or perceived dissent continued in 2019, despite the end of the two-year state of emergency in July 2018.

“Thousands of people were held in lengthy and punitive pre-trial detention, often without any credible evidence of their having committed any crime recognizable under international law.”

The human rights group highlighted “severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” and said that “people considered critical of the government, in particular journalists, political activists and human rights defenders, had been detained or faced trumped-up criminal charges.”

It added that “there were credible reports of torture and enforced disappearances.”

Turkey is considered one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with many reporters facing criminal investigation and detention over reports or social media posts on the pandemic.

Amnesty International claims that the outbreak has given Turkish authorities another justification for targeting the media “on the basis of vague anti-terrorism and other laws limiting the right to freedom of expression.”

Since last month, about 18 news websites have been blocked by a court order in Turkey, along with a ban on access to dozens of online reports.

In March, two dissident journalists from critical news site OdaTV were detained on charges of violating Turkey’s intelligence laws by disclosing the identity of an operative killed in Libya, although the victim’s identity had been disclosed publicly in Parliament.

The reporters are being held in pre-trial detention and face up to 19 years in prison.

“Lengthy periods of pre-trial detention have become routine,” Amnesty International’s statement said.

“Charges levelled against media workers are often trumped up, and are sometimes patently absurd or wholly lacking any evidence of a recognizable criminal offense,” it added.

Amnesty International’s senior Turkey researcher, Andrew Gardner, told Arab News that the Turkish leadership wants
to avoid criticism and excessive scrutiny over the coronavirus pandemic along with other key issues such as military intervention in Syria or its handling of the Kurdish conflict.

“Journalists covering these in a critical way have been targeted. It is an added layer on the existing situation in Turkey and gives the government another opportunity to step up the crackdown,” he said.

Gardner said that Turkey’s mainstream media lacks diversity of opinion, and there is more interest in online-based alternative media.

“But, again, the risks are clear,” he said. “The government has shown a willingness to investigate people over their posts on social media and has been very aggressive in banning and blocking Internet-based media.”

Turkish prosecutors recently called for leading journalist dissident news anchor Fatih Portakal, from Turkey’s Fox TV channel, to be jailed for up to three years, alleging that he violated banking laws with an online post implying that the state was borrowing from banks to cover up economic difficulties amid the pandemic.

Another journalist, Hakan Aygun, was imprisoned on April 4 for social media posts criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s nationwide donation campaign against the pandemic.

Aygun is accused of “inciting the public to enmity and hatred.”

Dissident journalists, who face health problems in overcrowded prisons, were excluded from a recently adopted amnesty law that resulted in the release of up to 90,000 prisoners.

Turkey was ranked 154 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 world press freedom index.
 


Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai in custody after fraud charge

Updated 03 December 2020

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai in custody after fraud charge

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai in custody after fraud charge
  • Authorities have intensified a crackdown on key opposition figures in the Chinese-ruled city
  • ‘This is about dirtying Jimmy up. It’s Beijing’s policing brought to Hong Kong’

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai was denied bail on Thursday on a charge of fraud related to the lease of a building that houses his Apple Daily, an anti-government tabloid.
Authorities have intensified a crackdown on key opposition figures in the Chinese-ruled city since Beijing circumvented the local legislature and imposed sweeping national security legislation on the global financial center on June 30.
While Lai’s fraud charge did not fall under the national security law, it marks the latest crackdown on pro-democracy figures in the former British colony, which was handed back to Beijing in 1997 with a promise to maintain the free-wheeling city’s way of life for 50 years.
Critics say the law crushes freedoms in the global financial center, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged anti-China, pro-democracy protests last year.
On Wednesday, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists Joshua Wong was jailed for more than 13 months for his role in an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019, the toughest and most high-profile sentencing of an opposition figure this year.
Lai, 73, and two senior executives of his company Next Digital, were charged on Wednesday on suspicion of concealing from and falsely representing the use of their office to their landlord, a public corporation set up by the Hong Kong government.
The charge stated they were not using the office space as permitted under the lease between 2016 to 2020, and had sub-let a part of the premises, resulting in benefits to Apple Daily.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach Lai or his lawyers for comment. Next Digital suspended trading on Thursday morning, pending an announcement containing “inside information.”
“This is about dirtying Jimmy up. It’s Beijing’s policing brought to Hong Kong,” Mark Simon, an associate of Lai, told Reuters.
An ardent critic of Beijing, Lai has been detained since Wednesday after reporting to the police for his arrest in August. Prosecutors applied to adjourn the case until April next year, according to local media.
In August, Lai was arrested after about 200 police officers swooped on his offices. Hong Kong police later said they had arrested nine men and one woman for suspected offenses including “collusion with a foreign country/external elements to endanger national security, conspiracy to defraud” and others.
Suspicion of colluding with foreign forces carries a maximum sentence of life in jail under the new security law.
Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has met officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
The security law was introduced on June 30 and punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.