Edirne – At least nine journalists, who were in Edirne to report on border crossing of refugees after Turkey declared it will be softening border controls, were taken into custody by the gendarmerie over the weekend and on Monday.
Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) lawyers who traveled to Edirne provided the detainees with legal counselling.
A translator and seven journalists, including five foreign nationals who asked to remain unnamed and reporters Tolga Sezgin from Nar Photos and Sedat Suna from the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), were taken under custody near the border. Eight of the detained were released after background checks while British photojournalist Bradley Secker was released after testifying for breaching border.
MLSA Lawyers Zelal Pelin Doğan and Mustafa Murtezaoğlu were in attendance during his statement. Seckler said: “I learned about the situation of refugees through the Presidency’s [of Republic of Turkey] Press Whatsapp group. I traveled to the area to take photos. I was there with the Turkish and foreign journalists. Because there were so many migrants, they [journalists] ran into a different direction. The Greek soldiers were yelling ‘The border is closed,” and I heard gunshots. I don’t know on which direction they opened fire”.
Seckler was released after testifying.
Detentions used to suppress the media
MLSA Lawyers Zelal Pelin Doğan and Mustafa Murtezaoğlu who provided legal support to journalists throughout the day noted that it was not possible for reporters to tell what part of the area is considered a forbidden military zone. “Detaining journalists, who try to report on the border crossings for the entire world, on the grounds of a border breach is an excuse to suppress press freedom,” Doğan added.
MLSA Co-Director and lawyer Veysel Ok recalled that many news stations have broadcast border crossings live on TV and underlined that the detentions infringe on the public’s right to information. He said: “Journalists are taken into custody for entering a forbidden zone and filming in that area. However, the [Turkish] government encourages thousands of refugees to enter the forbidden zone. Journalists exercise their right to report news and inform the public, they are working for the public interest.”
İdris Sayılğan arrested, Naci Demir still under custody
Mezopotamya Agency reporter İdris Sayılğan, who was also taken into police custody on 29 February, Saturday, was arrested yesterday for “intentionally violating judicial control measures.”
Sayılğan, who is represented by MLSA was put under arrest on the grounds that he had violated an international travel ban that was in effect for him. Sayılğan, who testified before the Erzurum Appellate Court’s 2nd Penal Chamber via the Audio and Visual Information System (SEGBİS), stated that “They [gendarmerie officers] detained us while we were filming with a camera. If we had known that it was a forbidden zone, we would have sought a permit. But various media outlets were conducting interviews and live broadcasting there. We are journalists and we went there to report news. I was not there to flee the country, I was there to report the news.”
Mezopotamya Agency reporter Naci Kaya, who was taken into police custody along with Sayılğan, testified before the Aydın 3rd High Criminal Court for intentionally violating the international travel ban that was in effect for him. Kaya, who stated that he went to Edirne to report news, said that “I was searched before entering the area and I did not have any problem. I was later taken into custody when I went to the area where there were refugees. I did not have any intention of fleeing.”
The court ruled that there is no solid evidence demonstrating that Kaya violated international travel ban that was in effect for him, and released him. But he remains still under custody on charges of “filming in a forbidden access military zone”. The period of detention for him was extended until 4 March.
Rûdaw TV staff expected to testify
Rûdaw TV reporter Rawin Sterk and cameraman Mehmet Şirin Akgün were also taken into custody at the weekend in Edirne. The Edirne Chief Prosecutor’s Office’s wrote to Adana, Ankara and İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Offices inquiring whether any legal action should be taken against Rawin Sterk who is subject of an investigation against on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization”. Rûdaw TV staff, who are still under custody, were expected to testify as this story was being reported.