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Turkish unions demand release of student jailed for insulting president

TURKISH trade unions and civil society groups called for the release of journalism student Berivan Bila today, after she was arrested on charges of insulting authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ms Bila was taken into custody last week over an article published in July 2017 titled: Department of Journalism 1st Lesson: Journalism is not a Crime, which she wrote after the arrest of journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Her mother Songul Bila, speaking at a press conference with others demanding the student is released, said that Ms Bila had been unlawfully arrested and stressed that her daughter had “always run after the truth.”

Ms Bila, who studies at Karadeniz Technical University, had written about the plight of journalists in Turkish prisons.

According to the Stockholm Centre for Freedom, 168 media workers have been arrested and 74 jailed after being convicted of crimes under the country’s draconian laws.

In her article, which was read out at the press conference, Ms Bila described Turkey as “under dictatorship and pressures,” which was deemed to be an insult to Mr Erdogan. The offence carries a maximum four-year prison sentence.

Prosecutions on such charges have rocketed from 132 in 2014, when Mr Erdogan was first elected president, to more than 6,000 in 2017.

Thousands of journalists have been blacklisted after having their press cards revoked, and hundreds of media organisations were closed as a part of the state of emergcy. 

Despite the increased attacks on journalism and press freedom in Turkey, Engin Nur, chair of education workers’ union Egitim-Sen, said the arrest of Ms Bila had “surprised us all.”

“With the arrest of a student of journalism for having expressed her opinions, we are going through a situation contrary to the legal norms. We do not accept that a young journalist was arrested due to her opinions and articles,” he said.

Civic organisation Trabzon Community House, of which Ms Bila is a member, demanded her immediate release from prison and warned that Turkey’s media has been monopolised in order to serve Mr Erdogan’s government.

Its chair Gizem Pehlivan said: “Berivan has taken a stance and struggled against all types of bans, censorships, pressure and arrests faced by journalists.

“She was arrested because she fearlessly wrote about the truths and facts, expressed her opinions freely and said: ‘Journalism is not a crime’.”

Ms Bila will remain in prison in the eastern city of Trabzon until her next hearing. 

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