JEDDAH: Two dissident Turkish journalists, Ismail Dukel and Muyesser Yildiz, had their digital materials seized and were detained over allegations of military espionage early on Monday.
The news came amid a new crackdown on media in Turkey, which is ranked as one the top jailers of journalists worldwide.
Yildiz, the Ankara bureau chief of the pro-opposition ODA TV news portal, and Dukel, the Ankara representative of TELE 1 TV channel, were taken into custody following investigations by the Ankara Prosecution Office.
No details were disclosed about which nations they were spying for, or the alleged spying activities they were conducting.
However, pro-government newspaper Sabah claimed that Yildiz spoke to a military personnel 29 times by her own phone — sparking debate about whether the phone callings of journalists are wiretapped.
“The Mafia is free outside, the gangs are outside, the harassers are outside, the scammers are outside, the killers are outside, the thieves are outside, but journalists and politicians are kept inside,” said Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Three other journalists from ODA TV have been held since March over a report about the identity of two Turkish spies killed in Libya, despite their names being revealed in the Turkish parliament a week earlier.
“The arrest of a journalist who could have given his testimony upon invitation from a prosecutor doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in democracies,” said Merdan Yanardag, chief editor of TELE 1 TV, adding that the detentions were meant to threaten independent media in the country.
Yildiz, who was fined for a story she wrote in March, was a vocal critic of the government, which she accused of mishandling counterterrorism efforts.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu responded to her work, claiming she is “pro-PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) terror group.”
He said: “What I am disappointed in is not your affection for the PKK, but the fact that you’re doing business with those in the state.”
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reported on May 22 that there were 95 journalists jailed in Turkey, more than in any country in the world.
Press in Arrest, a volunteer group monitoring investigations and trials of journalists, recently released its Press Freedom report for May.
“Although court hearings were postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, prosecution of journalists and fines on critical news outlets continued in May,” the report said.
It added that debates about press freedom turned around the penalties imposed by the Radio and Television Supreme Council and Press Advertisement Institution, more than the criminal prosecution of journalists.
“However, having become the government’s instrument of oppression, the judiciary continued to prosecute journalists relentlessly,” the report added.
Advertisements are a significant source of income for opposition media. Cumhuriyet newspaper was recently deprived of publishing tender notices from the government for three months following a row with Turkish presidential communications chief Fahrettin Altun. The paper was accused of violating press ethics.
On June 4, the International Press Institute and 19 other international press freedom and freedom of expression groups sent a joint letter to Turkey’s advertisement agency to call for a fair distribution of public ads in local and national newspapers.