A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Tuesday urged Turkish officials to respect journalists' freedom of expression [UN News Centre report]. The international concern increased after the Turkish government arrested nine journalists earlier this month based on accusations that the journalists were members of the political dissent group Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and had conspired to overthrow the government. The OHCHR spokesperson called for transparency in the arrests:
If there are genuine reasons to suppose that any journalists have committed crimes outside the scope of their journalistic work, then those reasons should be transparent to the journalists themselves, to their defence lawyers and to the rest of us.Otherwise, the spokesperson said, the arrests appear to be "politically motivated" and are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Thousands of activists gathered in Istanbul on Sunday, protesting the arrests [AFP report] and calling for more protection of freedom of speech.
Turkey continues to face controversy regarding media freedom. In November, a Turkish Magistrate Court in Ankara reinstated [JURIST report] the nearly three-year ban on YouTube [media website; JURIST news archive] only days after the ban had been lifted. The court ordered access to YouTube blocked after video of former opposition leader Deniz Baykal in a bedroom with a female aide surfaced on the site. In September, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that Turkey failed to protect the life of well-known Turkish-Armenian writer and journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] and failed to adequately investigate his murder and infringed on his right of freedom of expression. Dink, editor of the newspaper Agos [media website], was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Istanbul in January 2007. Prior to his death, Dink was tried and then put on retrial [JURIST report] for "insulting Turkishness" by writing about the killing of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire.