Reporters urged to 'take' jailed colleagues to EU-Turkey talks


Sofia (AFP)

A media freedom group urged journalists Thursday to symbolically 'take' nearly 100 colleagues jailed in Turkey's post-coup crackdown to talks between EU leaders and Turkey in Bulgaria next week.

The Bulgarian branch of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) printed out symbolic accreditations with the names, pictures and media affiliations of 95 detained journalists accused by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of aiding a failed July 2016 coup.

The badges carried the hashtags #JournalistsNotTerrorists, #FreeThePress and #EUTakeAction.

The AEJ asked journalists to pick a badge and wear it at talks between Erdogan and EU leaders next Monday in Varna and to speak on behalf of their jailed colleagues.

"Even if you put critical journalists in jail, you will not stop hearing them -- others will raise their voices. We will speak with their voice," the AEJ said in a statement.

"The European Union must not remain silent on this issue and has to put the fate of the detained journalists as a condition for any rapprochement with Ankara," it said, calling for their immediate release.

AEJ's Ivan Radev told AFP that he recognised taking part in the action could be "quite risky" but nevertheless invited "everyone to come and talk to us... and decide if they can take a badge."

About 55,000 people have been detained and more than 140,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in Turkey on accusations of links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher Erdogan blames for the attempted coup.

The number of arrested journalists varies according to different sources, with the P24 press freedom group putting them at 153 but other organisations speaking of more than 200.

The badges printed by the AEJ notably included the name of Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and journalist, who was handed a life sentence in February for his alleged Gulenist links.

On Tuesday The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had abused the rights to liberty, security and freedom of expression by detaining Altan and fellow journalist Sahin Alpay, who was released last week but banned from leaving Turkey.

It ordered the Turkish state to pay each of them 21,500 euros ($26,500).