Journalists who are taking part in the “News Watch initiative” paid a visit to the headquarters of the Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen) in Diyarbakır on Wednesday. (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Gülten Üstündağ)
In a show of solidarity with correspondents who are trying to report from Turkey’s troubled Southeast, the fourth group of journalists to take part in the Haber Nöbeti “News Watch” initiative started work in Diyarbakır on Wednesday.
The initiative was set up to bring attention to the difficulties faced by local journalists on a daily basis due to police crackdowns, detentions and arrests as they attempt to cover clashes between the security forces and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) amid a tense atmosphere marked by continuous curfews since summer of last year. The group, made up of nine journalists, will stay for a week in the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakır, visiting a number of Kurdish media outlets that are struggling with difficult conditions by local authorities and the security forces and have been prevented from entering conflict zones.
Speaking to journalists, Hakkı Botan, the head of the Free Journalists Association (ÖGC), said that the main purpose of the initiative is to create awareness about the challenges that local journalists experience and dispel prejudices against local journalists. “Visiting the region will certainly provide [other journalists] with valuable insights into what is happening in the Southeast. The ÖGC wants the visiting journalists to closely follow and observe the suffering of their colleagues in the region. In this way, the truth about the incidents occurring here in Diyarbakır and across the Southeast could be spread throughout the entire country,” Botan said.
Speaking about the police crackdown on journalists reporting in areas hit by curfews, Botan stressed that 36 journalists have been imprisoned since the outbreak of hostilities in the region. “In the 1990s, over 100 journalists were killed in order to intimidate independent journalism but now, the government punishes them by detaining, arresting and even fining them. In this way, journalists are forced to give up doing journalism or are unable to report freely in an objective manner,” Botan said.
While Botan was speaking about the deteriorating conditions for those who wish to perform objective journalism, distressing news arrived concerning Rohat Aktaş, the editor of the Kurdish-language newspaper Azadiya Welat, who had gone to the Cizre district of Şırnak province to report on the curfew and a number of people who were reportedly trapped in the basement of a house since Jan. 30. According to local media, Aktaş’s body had been found in the basement and he had been identified by his family after his body was sent to Silope district for an autopsy.
Visiting journalists follow protest against operations in Sur
The next stop for the visiting journalists was the Sur district of Diyarbakır, where an intense battle is ongoing between the security forces and the PKK. Two-hundred protesters along with Diyarbakır Mayor Gültan Kışanak marched towards the entrance to Sur — which is totally blocked off by the military — chanting slogans such as “Murderer Erdoğan,” referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and “Long live the resistance in Sur.”
As the protesters approached Sur, a group of artists, human rights lawyers and others gave a statement to the reporters, calling on government officials to establish a “safe corridor” to evacuate an area in which 200 people, including children, were allegedly trapped. Reading the statement on behalf of the group, artist Zeynep Tanbay said that despite several members of the initiative calling for a “safe corridor for civilians” and meeting with the Diyarbakır deputy governor to press their concerns, the demand had fallen on deaf ears.
Tanbay later told Today’s Zaman that she did not believe the Governor’s Office had any authority to allow a “safe corridor” and that the power to do so lies with the military, but she does not expect it to give permission for the civilians to leave in Sur.
This news piece was published by Today’s Zaman as well.