Trump’s chance to urge Erdogan to #FreeTurkeyMedia

T Kumar, Advocacy Director for Europe and Asia, Amnesty International USA

President Donald Trump is meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the White House today. While the situation in Syria will undoubtedly be on the agenda, will broader human rights concerns be part of the discussion? Human rights in Turkey have deteriorated since the attempted coup against Erdogan last July. Thousands were arrested and thousands more were dismissed from their jobs.

Journalists faced the brunt of the crackdown. There are around 120 journalists imprisoned in Turkey and several media houses were shut down. In essence, there is a media blackout in Turkey that is strictly enforced by Erdogan’s administration. That’s why Amnesty International has launched the #FreeTurkeyMedia campaign.

As part of this crackdown, the web editor of the prominent Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, Oğuz Güven, was taken into police custody just this morning. Turkish authorities have been relentlessly hounding Cumhuriyet, which is now one of the country’s last remaining opposition newspapers. Twelve Cumhuriyet staff members are currently held in prison pending trial, and Güven’s detention is another sign of Turkey’s intent to stamp out independent journalism for good.

Reports that Güven was detained on the basis of a single headline reflect the terrifying new reality for journalists in Turkey. A reality where one word out of place can get you locked up. Güven’s detention marks another dark day for free press in Turkey, which currently holds the disgraceful record as being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

While human rights issues under President Trump are of serious concern, human rights in Turkey must be addressed. Trump recently praised Erdogan for winning a referendum that gave him sweeping powers and added to the already ruthless repression of dissent.

Will President Trump urge the Turkish President to release imprisoned journalists? Or will he and Erdogan continue to erode human rights?