Independent pulls article criticising Erdogan over concerns for reporter's safety in Turkey

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Picture: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

The Independent pulled a comment piece that was critical of Turkey’s government over concerns about the safety of one of its reporters travelling in the country, Press Gazette has learned.

Freelance writer Robert Ellis had compared president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s post-coup purge – which has included a brutal crackdown on free speech and the media – to Hitler’s Third Reich in his article.

It was published on 23 July before being taken down from the Independent website.

The Independent’s award-winning foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn is believed to have visited Turkey recently.

Ellis, who has written on Turkish affairs since 1995, including 18 comment pieces for the Independent’s Voices section over the past year, said: “When it came to the crunch the Independent buckled. Their nerve failed.”

A former advisor to the European Parliament’s Turkey Assessment Group, Ellis said the paper knew he was critical of the Turkish government’s actions as he had taken an “openly critical stance” in previous articles.

He added: “I think somebody on the Turkish side has said: ‘Let’s make a determined effort to stop this guy and shut him up’. For the Independent to go along with it is utterly reprehensible.

“The Turkish authorities have been able to get to what I had considered to be a reputable publication. I’m flabbergasted really. I never expected this to happen.”

Ellis’ piece has since been published online at Cypriot news website Famagusta Gazette.

In an email to Ellis from Voices editor Hannah Fearn, seen by Press Gazette, he is told: “One of our foreign correspondents is travelling in Turkey now and has received threats as a result. However, I intend to republish as soon as he has crossed the border.”

A spokesperson for the Independent said: “We have a duty to put the safety of our journalists first and that was the context of our decision to remove the item in question.

“There was categorically never any request, nor pressure, from the Turkish authorities to remove the piece. It was an editorial decision taken with due consideration.”

They said the Independent website had carried “plenty of highly critical reportage and commentary on the Erdogan regime” as well as raising doubts about human rights in the country before the coup attempt.

“The Independent will continue to highlight concerns regarding actions by the current regime in Turkey, as it has consistently over several years,” they added.

Among the articles that are critical of president Erdoğan’s regime on the Independent website is a piece by deputy managing editor Will Gore, published on 18 July, headlined: “If the Turkish press cannot criticise Erdoğan, then foreign media must speak out.

In it Gore said of journalism that was critical of the Turkish president: “It is about standing up for the kind of freedom of expression not permitted in Turkey; it is about reporting facts over propaganda; and it is ultimately about calling a spade a spade – in Erdoğan’s case, a president who would be king.”

More than one hundred media organisations have been ordered to close in Turkey since the failed coup attempt on July 15 prompted a government backlash.

So far 45 newspapers, 29 publishing houses, 23 radio stations, 16 TV channels, 15 magazines and three news agencies have closed, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

Turkish authorities have also issued a total of 89 detention warrants for journalists, including 47 editorial staff at the Zaman newspaper,

Said Ellis: “I know what my Turkish friends and colleagues are up against and whatever little I can do to support them I will do.

“In one sense I feel I have a kind of moral obligation to support my Turkish colleagues in their struggle for freedom of expression.”

Picture: Reuters

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