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Campaign of the Week: New Journalists for Democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan is ‘a revolution’

JOURNALISTS, campaigners and Turkish and Kurdish organisations based in Britain came together in a new solidarity initiative announced on World Press Freedom Day yesterday.

The new Journalists for Democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan has the backing of a range of trade unions, journalists’ groups and media organisations and individuals both in Britain and in Turkey/Kurdistan.

Internationally renowned journalist and artist Zehra Dogan said she was “very, very excited” to hear of the campaign launch as she agreed to become its first patron earlier this week.

We met in London weeks after she received the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Arts Award.

Dogan spent two-and-a-half years in prison after she created a painting which depicted the devastation of the Kurdish town of Nusaybin caused after Turkish military operations.

She was released in February this year and dedicated her award to People’s Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarian Leyla Guven and the thousands of hunger strikers in Turkish prisons.

One of first campaigns of the newly formed group is raising solidarity with journalists from the Mesopotamia News Agency — including letter writing, potentially attending trials and raising awareness.

Fourteen of its journalists have been jailed on trumped-up terrorism charges with 13 of them starting a protest hunger strike.

A journalist from the organisation told me: “International solidarity means everything.”

The agency is particularly targeted for its coverage of the Kurdish question and as Dogan explained in an interview for the Morning Star, women bear the brunt of the oppression against journalists in Turkey.

She described the launch of the Journalists for Democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan campaign as “a very big revolution in the field of journalism” and a “very big opportunity for our voices to be heard.”

“This is something we as Kurdish journalists have wanted for a very, very long time,” she explained as we discussed the oppression of journalists in Turkey.

The initiative was triggered by a motion from the Morning Star’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) chapel, which has long supported our brothers and sisters in Turkey, raising solidarity when they have come under attack.

The Star frequently covers issues relating to Turkey and the Kurdish question and has reported from trials across the country, including those of journalists and opposition politicians.

Journalists in Turkey are some of the bravest people I know, risking their liberty and often their lives just to report the news. However Turkey’s increasingly oppressive regime has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.

Its authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denies there are any journalists in prison — to him they are all terrorists. However he fears a pen and a camera more than a bullet or a bomb.

Press freedom is virtually non-existent in Turkey, with media ownership concentrated in the hands of Erdogan and his supporters.

The sale of the powerful Dogan Group and the takeover of the liberal Cumhuriyet newspaper, Turkey’s oldest, were a symbolic death knell for press freedom in the country.

The aim of the new group is to build links with working-class journalists and media organisations in Turkey, those outside the well-known high-profile cases.

It will have a scheme twinning journalists in Britain with those in Turkey/Kurdistan, sharing work, offering support including attending trials if they are arrested and raising their profile.

Journalists for Democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan will be a political organisation, campaigning against the brutal Ankara regime and holding the British government to account for its actions as one of its main backers.

It will also challenge media coverage of Turkey and Kurdistan in Britain, ensuring accurate reporting of events.

On a practical level, support will be offered to those who are forced into exile in Britain, with advice on organisations to contact, help getting some journalistic experience, English lessons, press cards and other basic forms of help.

Peace in Kurdistan spokeswoman Estella Schmid said the campaign was essential and urged all those who stand for freedom and democracy, including Britain’s trade union movement, to lend the group its support.

NUJ London Central branch secretary Steve Jones welcomed the group’s establishment which came following a public meeting hosted by the branch last year.

“We have seen far too many journalists — not to mention trade unionists and campaigners — subjected to restrictions and intimidation from the Turkish regime. This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Our message is: journalism is not a crime.”

Journalists for Democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan will hold an official launch meeting in the coming weeks. To find out more and to get involved in the campaign contact international@peoples-press.com.

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