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World’s Worst Jailer of Journalists Does It Again

By Georgia Logothetis, HALC Managing Director

Rod Nordland, reporter for The New York Times, was denied entry into Turkey this week, marking another instance of Turkey’s complete disregard for basic democratic values.

For years, Turkish journalists have been victims of a massive assault on the freedom of speech, headed up by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself. From getting rich suing journalists who dare to criticize him to taking over media outlets and charging journalists as terrorists, Erdogan has proven that he views a free press as an opposition to his power.

Now, more and more foreign journalists are in his crosshairs:

Border officials in Turkey detained a veteran New York Times correspondent as he arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on Tuesday, then forced him to take a flight back to London without explaining why he had been refused entry to the country. […]

After having arrived at the Istanbul airport from London, Mr. Nordland said in an email that he had been stopped by the border police. They told him that his name was on an Interior Ministry order denying him entry and that they were placing him on the next flight back, “no reason given,” he wrote. A Turkish lawyer for The Times, Orcun Cetinkaya, said the airport police had told a colleague that the reason was “national security,” with no further details.

Nordland is not the first foreign journalist to be on the Turkish government’s target list. As The New York Times notes, over the last year, many journalists — especially German ones — have been denied entry or have had their press accreditation refused.

The fate of foreign journalists in Turkey is even more troubling. Just this month, Dion Nissenbaum, a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, was detained without access to an attorney or his family:

Once I was in police custody, I expected to be bustled off to the airport and escorted onto the first flight to the U.S. Instead, I was driven to a small detention center 60 miles outside of Istanbul. A police officer took me into a small room, where he ordered me to take off all my clothes. He then methodically searched through my stuff. I was given sweatpants, rubber sandals and a warm, long-sleeved shirt — the uniform worn by many other detainees at the facility.

“Can you tell me why I’m here?” I asked again and again in English. “I’d like to call my attorney. I’d like to call my embassy. I’d like to call my wife.” The night manager, who had a sidearm strapped over the vest of his tightfitting three-piece suit, shrugged as he picked through my wallet and scrutinized my press cards. “Tomorrow,” he said with his limited English. “Maybe tomorrow.”

A guard led me down to a basement holding cell with no toilet and a small, boarded-up window. The concrete walls were peppered with graffiti from past detainees. The only chance for fresh air and natural light came when I had to go to the bathroom. I’d bang on the door until a guard came to escort me upstairs to the squat toilet, with a small window cracked open to let in crisp winter air. I’d take in deep breaths before being escorted back to solitary confinement.

For three days, The Wall Street Journal and Nissenbaum’s family had no idea where he was. One theory for this detention is that Turkey’s president was offended by a retweet Nissenbaum made (and later deleted) about an ISIS attack on Turkish soldiers. Nissenbaum was eventually released and immediately left the country with his family.

A free press is the cornerstone of any democracy. The free exchange of ideas has been prized since the days of ancient Greece. Now, one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists wears the label of “democracy” as a fig leaf for authoritarianism, and is embarking on a harsh campaign against both domestic and foreign journalists. It’s the the world stops giving Turkey a free pass and takes a strong stand against a government that has no respect for free speech, free press and the freedom of expression.

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