Arrest Dutch journalist sparks further Turkish freedom of speech debate

ISTANBUL – Dutch journalist Ebru Umar of the daily paper Metro was held for questioning in Turkey in the night of the 23rd of April, for allegedly insulting the Turkish President Erdoğan, several news agencies reported. She was on holiday in Kuşadası when she tweeted excerpts of her column for the Dutch Metro in which she criticised the Turkish president. A few hours later, she tweeted ‘Police at my door. Not a joke.’

Ebru Umar is a Turkish-Dutch columnist who is famous for her atheist and feminist ideas and her critical view of Turkey. She called Ergodan a ‘dictator’ in one of her articles, and in another she reported that a Turkish consular official in the Netherlands had called on Dutch Turks to report incidents with regard to insults at the adress of of President Erdoğan.

The detainment of Umar is the latest controversy in a series of what many see as assaults on free speech by the Turkish president, which started after he called for persecution of the German cartoonist Jan Böhmermann earlier this month.

Ebru Umar/Creative Commons

The Volkskrant and ABC News also reported that the number of people on trial for insulting Erdoğan has risen hugely since he became president, with more than 1,800 cases currently open.

Umar later tweeted that she had been released but was not allowed to leave the country. She has to report to the police station twice a week. She filed an appeal against the travel ban, which is usually processed within three business days, but that deadline has long expired, according to NRC Handelsblad. ‘I am confronted with something I have never encountered before: deprivation of freedom,’ she writes in the paper. ‘My phone is being tapped, I feel like I’m in the wrong movie.’

There has been much response to Umar’s predicament, both in outrage and in support. Prime Minister Rutte called her to discuss her security in Turkey, NRC reports. Twitter was quick to respond with #FreeEbru, but Umar also received many threats. Many Turkish people were unhappy with her critical and, according to them, offensive statements about Erdoğan on the social network. Whether Ebru Umar actually got personal security is unclear, as the government does not give out details on the security measures of individuals.

Erdogan is not a goatfucker
Outrage on Twtter/ © Ruben L. Oppenheimer (@RLOppenheimer)

Can Dündar is editor-in-chief, and Erdem Gül is Ankara bureau chief of the secular opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet (The Republic). Both were sentenced to at least five years in prison for revealing state secrets, a very controversial charge, reported AFP. The sentence came just hours after Can Dündar was shot at in an attempt on his life, right in front of the courthouse in Istanbul. He was not injured.

Bert Koenders, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that he had contacted his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to voice his “deploration” about the case, according to the Business Insider. ‘The fundamental principles of press freedom and freedom of speech are not negotiable,’ Koenders said in a speech at a conference for freedom of the press. ‘The behaviour of the Turkish authorities is unfitting for a country that wishes to be part of the European Union.’

In January of 2015, the Turkish government also detained Dutch journalist Fréderike Geerdink, based in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakır (Kurdish: Amid) in southeastern Turkey, for charges related to ‘propaganda for a terrorist organisation.’

As of now Ebru Umar is awaiting a decision regarding a possible trial. She is currently not allowed to leave the country. ‘I think those who have this on their conscience would love it if I needed security,’ she reponded to NRC. ‘There is no greater deprivation of freedom than needing security.’

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