Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 November 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Media Freedom in Turkey: National Union of Journalists
Apologies have been received from Deputies Barrett and Grealish. At today's meeting, we will discuss with members of the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, the union's campaign to highlight the threat to media freedom in Turkey and the work of the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, in tackling global abuse of media freedom. I welcome the following: Mr. Gerry Carson, who is the cathaoirleach of the NUJ's Irish executive council; Mr. Barry White of the UK division of the NUJ; and Mr. Ronan Brady, who is an Irish delegate to the IFJ. The format of the meeting is that we will hear an opening statement from the witnesses before we go into a question-and-answer session with the members of the committee. I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even in silent mode, with the recording and broadcast equipment in this room.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I ask Mr. Carson to make his opening remarks. I understand that Mr. White and Mr. Brady will make brief contributions at this point as well.
Mr. Gerry Carson:
As the members of the committee can probably guess from my accent, I am from Belfast. I chair the Belfast and district branch of the NUJ. I thank the committee for the invitation, which relates primarily to the violation of media freedom in Turkey. Worldwide, journalists face dangers each day merely for doing their jobs. Sadly, the killers of journalists are getting away with murder throughout the world. The global impunity index, which is published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is a not-for-profit organisation based in New York, documents the top countries where the killers of journalists go unpunished and cases of journalists being killed remain unsolved. Somalia, Iraq and Syria are at the top of the list, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. Extremist organisations like the Islamic State group and Al-Shabaab have repeatedly targeted journalists for murder. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan also feature on the index. Our focus today is on Turkey.
The NUJ is gravely concerned about the actions of the Turkish Government in restricting freedom of the press. There can be no justification for the sustained and systematic attack on journalists and media organisations. Democracy cannot be protected by attacking the very values one is supposed to be protecting. On 24 August last, the NUJ in Ireland made a presentation to the Turkish charge d'affaireshere in Dublin. We were received with courtesy, but we were disturbed by the strong insistence that national security considerations provide justification for the ongoing repression of human rights. On 15 July last, we wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. We were disappointed by the apparent lack of urgency in addressing our concerns, although we did receive a reply from the Minister on 10 October. The Minister raised the issue of threats to media freedom at a meeting of foreign affairs Ministers of the Council of Europe on 7 September. That meeting was attended by the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs. We welcome that intervention.
The NUJ has been working with the IFJ to monitor this situation. We have received detailed reports from our four sister unions in Turkey. My NUJ colleague from the UK, Mr. Barry White, and Mr. Ronan Brady, who is a member of the Irish executive council and a delegate to the IFJ's World Congress, are in attendance to give the committee an informed overview of the situation in Turkey. I invite Mr. White, who has served on the steering committee of the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, to speak.
Mr. Barry White:
I first visited Turkey in 2002 as part of a mission from the IFJ and the EFJ to that country. The purpose of the mission was to examine the professional conditions, including limitations to press freedom, and social conditions of journalists in Turkey. This led to further discussions with our affiliate in Turkey, which at that time was the Journalist’s Union of Turkey, known as the TGS. This eventually led to the establishment in 2010 of the Setting Journalism Free in Turkey project. Since that time, I have visited Turkey on 11 occasions as an observer for the IFJ and the EFJ at a number of trials of journalists and in support of the development of trade union organisation in the media sector.
On 15 and 16 July last, Turkey experienced a bloody coup attempt which killed more than 250 people and targeted democratic institutions like the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, which is the Parliament in Ankara. The coup attempt was unreservedly condemned by the IFJ and the EFJ. Mustafa Cambaz, who was a photojournalist with a Turkish daily newspaper, was killed during the failed coup. According to his newspaper, he died of a gunshot to the head when soldiers opened fire on crowds in a neighbourhood of Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday, 16 July. The coup attempt was followed by a state of emergency and, in our view, excessive and indiscriminate measures to purge all individuals believed to be connected to it.
The Turkish authorities have been and are continuing to arrest and jail journalists, shut down radio and TV channels and censor the Internet in an attempt to silence criticism. According to the IFJ, as of 21 October last, a total of 90 journalists were in jail and more than 130 media outlets had been banned since the failed coup. Approximately 2,500 journalists have lost their jobs and arrest warrants have been issued for dozens of journalists and media workers. Some families of journalists who are in hiding or have fled the country have been arrested in an attempt to force them to return and give themselves up to the authorities. In response, media workers, journalists and press freedom campaigners throughout the world have joined protests calling for the release of jailed journalists in Turkey. Our slogan is "press freedom is essential for democracy". We demand that Turkey sets the journalists free because journalism is not a crime.
The EFJ and the IFJ have been monitoring the situation regarding detained and arrested journalists and press freedom violations since 15 July. We are continuing to work with the Council of Europe platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. As part of our campaign, we have provided support to our affiliates in Turkey who are fighting to maintain their rights and freedoms every day. We have assisted with solidarity missions, provided financial support for those facing poverty or oppression and have sent observers to trials. The briefing material we have furnished to the committee contains a reference to a page on the IFJ website which provides further details in this regard.
We continue to lobby national and international institutions to demand the release of all journalists and the re-opening of media. IFJ-affiliated unions have lobbied Turkish embassies in their countries and raised the issue with government Ministers. Such visits have taken place in Dublin and London this summer, organised by the National Union of Journalists, where issues of serious concern were raised. More activities are being planned, some together with like-minded organisations including the European Trade Union Confederation, Reporters without Borders, Index on Censorship, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others.
The IFJ and all its affiliated members remain committed to delivering professional and trade union solidarity to all journalists. Mr. Ronan Brady will outline to the committee the organisation's wider work in highlighting and countering threats to media freedom worldwide.
Mr. Ronan Brady:
I join my colleagues in thanking members of the joint committee for the concern they have shown regarding this issue. It is very dear to us and we are grateful for their interest.
There have been suggestions by those connected with the Turkish Government that the International Federation of Journalists is picking unfairly on Turkey. The IFJ approach to Turkey, supported by the National Union of Journalists, of which we are a part, is consistent with our approach to global attacks on media freedom. In the past week, the IFJ raised similar issues to those we have raised with Ankara. For example, our organisation protested against the nakedly repressive media policies of the Orbán government in Hungary, involving the closure of an opposition newspaper, and protested against a foreign travel ban imposed by the Malaysian Government on Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a notable political cartoonist to whom I apologise for mispronouncing his name. The organisation also presented our proposed declaration on media freedom in the Arab world to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. This was in defence of the principles infringed by governments such as that of President Erdoan. This is part of the wider work of the organisation. Last week also saw our Brussels office defending public broadcasting in Romania, trade union rights in Tunisia and fighting for journalists on many other fronts.
The IFJ mission statement includes the following principles:
The IFJ promotes international action to defend press freedom and social justice through strong, free and independent trade unions of journalists. The IFJ does not subscribe to any given political viewpoint, but promotes human rights, democracy and pluralism. The IFJ is opposed to discrimination of all kinds and condemns the use of media as propaganda or to promote intolerance and conflict. The IFJ believes in freedom of political and cultural expression and defends trade union and other basic human rights.
The IFJ does not have anything against Turkey. On the contrary, we have the greatest possible admiration for Turkish culture, in particular, Turkish journalism. We are here in solidarity with the Turkish people, as well as Turkish journalists.
I thank the witnesses for their attendance. I was gravely concerned by the correspondence the joint committee received from the National Union of Journalists. We invited journalists before the committee to find out what we can do to address this issue. Members are fully aware of the circumstances prevailing in Turkey. The Turkish Government has closed 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 journals, 29 publishing houses etc. Has the Government issued a statement on the restriction of press freedoms in Turkey?
I note the International Federation of Journalists wrote to the Minister on the issue on 15 July last and I am a little perplexed that a response did not issue until 10 October. The delay does not indicate the matter was given the priority it is due. If something is being done now, that is fine but other than raising the issue at a meeting of Council of Europe foreign affairs Ministers, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade did recently, has the Government issued a specific statement regarding the journalists who remain in detention in Turkey and the closure of newspapers and television and radio stations?
It has been reported that President Erdoanis seeking the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey. The possibility has been mooted, including by the president. I agree with the view that the coup was an attack on democracy in Turkey. We roundly condemned it and the International Federation of Journalists has taken a clear position on it. In many respects, it is being used as a reason or vehicle for strengthening the Turkish Government and President Erdoan's position through the introduction of new laws, including the reinstatement of the death penalty.
How are the journalists who are in detention being treated? Do they have access to family members and legal teams? I am gravely concerned by a report that one journalist has reported being tortured for three days in prison.
What action can the joint committee take on this issue? What does the IFJ want us to do to ensure this issue remains on the agenda at the highest level? Press freedom is paramount in all democracies and any attack on it needs to be condemned at every opportunity.
I thank the witnesses for their comprehensive presentation. I agree with Deputy Darragh O'Brien that all members unreservedly condemn the appalling incursions on press freedom we have seen in Turkey since the failed coup. We also join the witnesses in condemning the coup. It is clear, however, that the response has been disproportionate. If one examines the list of media outlets that have been banned, it becomes clear that there has been an attempt, as one journalist put it, to eviscerate the Kurdish minority in particular and any media outlets connected with it. I understand the media outlets closed include a children's channel. It is also appalling to note that 2,500 journalists have lost their jobs, others remain in detention and basic due process rights such as lawyer-client privilege are being encroached. I am also deeply concerned by the allegations of torture.
On practical steps that can be taken, the European Parliament passed a resolution on 25 October. Is the International Federation of Journalists asking the joint committee to seek to have similar motions passed by the Oireachtas? I note the European Parliament resolution calls on member states to continue to monitor the practical implications of the Turkish state of emergency to ensure trials of journalists are monitored and instructed the President of the European Parliament to put forward the resolution to the Council, the European Commission and so forth. I note also that it calls on the European Union, through Commissioner Mogherini and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to engage directly in talks with Ankara about the position as regards the rule of law in Turkey. Should we also call for these steps to be taken? Clearly, the Government must express Ireland's strong concerns about this matter. On a related question, what can be done specifically with regard to the protection of the rights of the Kurdish minority, which appears to have been specifically targeted in the Turkish Government's crackdown?
I have also read the Turkish Government's response to the European Parliament's motion. Reports published on 1 November indicate the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Binaldi Yildirim, told members of the ruling AK party in a parliamentary speech that he did not care about the EU's red line and his government had drawn a red line on top of it. This does not show much respect for the actions of the European Parliament or the rule of law in Turkey, which is a grave concern. Clearly, the actions of the European Parliament have not yet had any effect. What can the joint committee do to put pressure on the Government to ensure some protection for journalists who are still in detention in Turkey and facing appalling treatment, including online abuse? The Guardianreported this week, for example, that women journalists and others in Turkey have been subject to orchestrated online abuse.
Is it the case that all those present at this meeting probably would be arrested if this discussion were taking place in Turkey?
It is a candidate country for EU accession. We are discussing the arrest and treatment of journalists in Turkey and that is a reflection of what is happening in society there. Following the coup, the Turkish Government has been able to put forward excuses for what has been happening. Approximately 32,000 people have been arrested, 1,500 people are still in police custody and 70,000 to 110,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs. Recently, the government decreed that 10,000 civil servants be dismissed from their jobs. Two elected mayors were arrested last week in the city of Diyarbakir, the Kurdish capital. Twenty-two elected mayors are currently in prison in Turkey and 33 more have been removed. That gives us a sense of what is happening in society there. Sixty party members of the Kurdish leftist pro-opposition HDP have been arrested and members of its sister party have also been arrested. The excuse given for those arrests was the attempted coup.
Am I right in saying that many of the people who have been arrested, including many of the journalists, are people who spoke out against the coup? There is a view that this is all about President Erdogan going for a one-party state and wiping out all the opposition. That seems to be pattern. Would the witness agree that, following the coup, the government is trying to achieve a long-term goal of quelling and silencing any independent or critical voices in the country?
The Cumhuriyetnewspaper, which was the last remaining source of independent news and information, was the latest one to be closed on 31 October. It was a very liberal newspaper and was nothing similar to the politics of Mr. Gulen and his boss, Alaattin Çakc. It was the newspaper that published news of the Turkish Government supplying arms and ammunition training to Islamic jihadists in Syria. Another pro-Kurdish newspaper, the Özgür Gündemdaily newspaper, which had been in operation for 25 years, has been forced to closed. Journalists who protested against that were arrested.
The witnesses mentioned a number of points in their statement that they would request the Turkish Government to do. Are they seeking that we would support those points, perhaps as a part of a motion we could put forward? How do they believe we can best help those journalists and media organisations battling against the autocratic censorship in Turkey? Social media was mentioned, the so-called citizen journalists and others who use the Internet. Is the International Federation on Journalists also focusing its campaign on the government's crackdown on these areas of free speech?
The witnesses are very welcome. I thank them for taking the time to come into us this morning. I do not ever repeat what other people have said and some of what I wanted to say has already been said, so I will not go back over it. As was said, Turkey is a candidate country for EU accession. Even before the coup, there were quite worrying trends regarding the suppression of freedom of expression and democracy there. Mr. White said that 90 journalists were in jail and that some of their families were in hiding or had fled the country in fear of being arrested and there have been attempts to bring them back. Do we know where these people are and the circumstances in which they are living, or if they have already been arrested, in what circumstances are they living? Are all the journalists Turkish or are there other nationalities involved? What is the atmosphere on the ground in Turkey? As lay people, we all know Turkey from a tourism point of view, and tourism is a huge contributor to its economy. Has it been grossly affected? What do the witnesses know about that? As was asked, will the witnesses name things that we, as a committee and a country, could physically do to help those journalists? I would be interested to hear their opinions on those points.
What we are hearing about this clampdown, not only on journalists but also on the judiciary and people involved in education, is very disturbing. I had tabled an oral parliamentary question on this matter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, on the previous occasion he took questions, which was about a week ago. In terms of children being back at school, there are about 40,000 to 50,000 teachers who are not back in their jobs, and that will have a massive impact. The Minister outlined what he had been doing, but this is showing a disregard on the part of Turkey for the EU, and yet it is a Union of which it wants to be member. I brought up the case of Ahmet Altan and his brother which was very disturbing. Ahmet was accused by the prosecution of sending subliminal or subconscious messages in a television programme. That gives us an idea of the extent of what is happening there.
The witnesses mentioned the lobbying of embassies. Has that led to any significant movements? Again, there is the matter of what we can do, which has been addressed. I note that the witnesses' organisation is involved with other countries. I would mention Azerbaijan as one in particular where there also seems to be a severe clampdown on the media and community activists. I have been following the case of a photojournalist who is in jail in Cairo, as part of everything that was happening there over a year ago. He is a photojournalist and has no political affiliations whatsoever. He is known as Shawkan. I have taken up his case with the Egyptian ambassador, but again there is a total disregard for answering questions about people who have ended up in jail. I do not know if the witnesses' organisation has been involved with him, but I take this opportunity to raise his case, even though the witnesses are here to discuss what is happening in Turkey.
Mr. Gerry Carson:
Certainly. It is fair to say that democracy no longer exists in Turkey. Despite this, on the Turkish Embassy's website in Dublin there is a great play on the commitment of the country to human rights and to democracy. Quite clearly, that is an inaccurate description of what Turkey is just now. I will ask my colleague, Mr. Barry White, to comment on the current situation there.
Dr. Barry White:
I will try to answer some of the questions the members raised, which are very good and very pertinent to what we are talking about. First, I will address what the committee can do, and this is very important for all of us. This is part of a process of raising awareness here today, which is very valuable. One of the problems is that people do not know what is going on, which is quite ironic since journalists are not writing about journalists, but then journalists do not control the publications for which they work. Other people make decisions on what is and what is not news. Getting the information out is incredibly important, and this is a very valuable way of doing it.
Also, it is important to challenge the Turkish authorities both in Britain, which we did when we visited the ambassador there who was very polite and listened to what we had to say, and in Ireland where the same has been done. We have to keep putting the facts before the Turkish authorities in our countries. Turkey is a candidate country for EU accession and it is, or was, a signatory to human rights conventions. My colleague, Mr. Gerry Carson, said something about the future of democracy there. I would say that democracy is a very long journey and Turkey have taken a very bad turning right off the road. Raising awareness through the mechanisms the members of the committee have here is very important. They might like to consider inviting the Turkish ambassador to come here and discuss their concerns about media freedom and the right of expression in Turkey or they may wish to go to see him. They may wish to initiate a debate in the Parliament. They may wish to ask the appropriate Minister to raise these issues with the Turkish ambassador and directly with the Turkish Government, and through Europe.
As a colleague mentioned, a motion was passed by the European Parliament a few days ago and what it said, apart from highlighting the numbers, is that journalists should not be detained on the basis of the content of their journalism or alleged affiliations and that the Turkish authorities should release those journalists and media workers being held without compelling evidence of criminal activity following the coup attempt of 15 July. Within that, there are obviously journalists who are being held, some in solitary confinement, others of whom are having difficulty getting access to lawyers. To be honest, some lawyers are quite scared of taking up the cases because of their own futures. There has been a purge in the Judiciary, as well as other sectors of society, so one can see the background music is not good. I do not have the sort of details the committee would perhaps like about individuals, except to say that when individuals are held in solitary confinement it is very difficult for them to get information out and one has to rely on their families to tell one what is going on. There is a whole set of problems there but raising awareness is a crucial thing to do.
As far as the treatment of journalists goes – we will just talk about it very briefly – there are a number of journalists from Turkey who are now in exile in Britain simply because their passports have been revoked or they have been told if they come back they will be arrested and their publications have been shut down or taken over by the state. They are now in a sort of limbo land where they will probably be applying for political asylum in Britain because they cannot go back and if they do, they face arrest. There is a whole series of problems there. A number of media outlets in Turkey had stations in Britain that were closed when the outlets were closed. Those involved are really worried about their future and if they have families back in Turkey, they are worried about that.
The Kurdish situation has already been touched on in the sense that we do not get involved in politics, as such. We do not have a solution for the Kurdish problem and we do not offer one. What we offer is solidarity with journalists who are facing oppression. We know the situation in the south east of Turkey and we know the difficulty of getting information out and the treatment of people there and the treatment of journalists. Obviously the NUJ and the IFJ stand for peace and that is what we want to see but the mechanics of that are not for us to discuss; what we are discussing is solidarity with journalists regardless of whether they are Kurdish or Turkish.
Most of the people who operate social media are not involved in trade unions so we get anecdotal evidence about the way they are shut down. Of course it is part of the diversity of voice which we are seeking to protect with our colleagues in Turkey and therefore any attack on social media is an attack on the freedom of expression and the right of one’s views to be put out.
I will call it a day for the moment, except to say perhaps two other things. First, when I knew this session would be slightly shorter than we anticipated, I produced an updated list of closures for the committee members to read at their leisure. If there is time I could also read a report of what happened when a television station in Istanbul, to which I gave an interview when I was there on 21 and 22 October, was raided and closed down. I refer to what happened, what happened to the staff, what happened to the equipment and how it was all done. We will see if time permits that but behind all of the figures are people, as well as the arguments about freedom of expression, the right for people to know and the dangers to democracy. There are people and families involved and we are concerned for them as well, but in the end we offer solidarity. We cannot do it for anyone, we just are there to offer solidarity.
Mr. Ronan Brady:
I wish to very briefly add that the Irish State and the Turkish state were both born around the same time in the 1920s and that is not the only link between us. I wish to stress the link because I know how it is being played out in Turkey when criticism comes from abroad. It is being presented as some kind of infringement of Turkish independence and integrity. We are both - Turks and Irish people - signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, and that means we are co-guarantors of that and that we have a right to criticise failures of human rights in Turkey, just as the Turks have the right to criticise us. They may well have genuine criticisms to make about this country. What I wish to stress, and it has been specifically raised by Deputy Crowe, is the newspaper Cumhuriyet, which is being accused of being in support of Cemaat, the Gülenist organisation, and of being involved in the coup in so far as it is, and also of being in support of the PKK – the Kurdish guerrilla army. If I could translate that into an Irish context, it is a bit like accusing The Irish Timesof being responsible for what happened in the North, in that by quoting the IRA it was said to be responsible for it. It is a bit like putting The Irish Timesin jail because it has infringed justice by trying to quote from an illegal political party. It is quite absurd. This is one of the most respected newspapers in Turkey and it is being accused of involvement for merely doing what journalists should do.
The Government and the Members of the Dáil should do the utmost they can to raise this through international institutions such as the European Union. We also appeal to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, to read carefully what we have said and to put the maximum amount of pressure on our friends and colleagues in Turkey so as to protect the journalists.
Mr. Gerry Carson:
I will read some of the requests we put to the Turkish Government. The government should release all imprisoned journalists held on the basis of journalistic activities, even when they support ideas the government finds offensive and halt the criminal prosecution of journalists in connection with their reporting and commentary.
We want the Turkish Government to halt the use of the anti-terror laws against journalists, in particular when authorities conflate the expression of political views the government finds offensive with outright terrorism. Such a practice contravenes Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We want to see an end to the practice of jailing journalists for prolonged periods as they await trial or a court verdict.
We have documented dozens of cases in which journalists have been held for many months or even years without having been convicted of a crime. Fundamentally and comprehensively, we want a reform of all laws used routinely against the press, including provisions in the penal code and anti-terror law that criminalise news gathering and publication of critical or opposing views.
I thank Mr Carson. Could I ask him whether he knows if any of his colleagues in other states had an opportunity to make a presentation to the foreign affairs committee of their national parliaments?
Mr. Barry White:
The UK Government launched an inquiry into UK relations with Turkey through the foreign affairs committee and the deadline for submissions was 20 October. The Trades Union Congress in Britain made a written submission covering many of the points that people have raised because this purge is far wider than just journalists but it includes them. It did so as the committee welcomed written submissions which addressed in particular the status in Turkey of the rights and values supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including freedom of speech and assembly, minority rights and the status of democracy. One can see there has been work taking place in Britain.
We know a number of our affiliates in continental Europe have also visited Turkish embassies to make the points that have been made both in Dublin and London. There are four or five of them and the details are on the International Federation of Journalists website. I do not have the information with me now. It is certainly an international campaign to put pressure on the Turkish authorities because that is what our affiliates in Turkey want us to do. We are not doing this on our own. We are doing it because we have been asked to do it by them. That is what solidarity means, as we all know, and they feel alone. It is only when they see this sort of action being taken internationally and across Europe that they gain confidence and realise they are not alone. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned going there is to show they are not alone. We are only fighting for the values that we cherish in our countries and that they are fighting to maintain.
I propose that we write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to outline the concerns of the members who contributed today and also those of the delegation regarding the very serious issues in Turkey. We could also ask the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, if he would raise at the EU Foreign Affairs Council the particular concerns about human rights issues for journalists and others in Turkey. There will be 28 Foreign Ministers at that EU Council table, and if the Minister is agreeable to the proposal and it has not already been discussed there, it would be a very important forum for it to be discussed at.
A similar letter should go to the Turkish ambassador outlining our concerns. Has there been any official visits to these journalists by organisations like those appearing before our committee today? How would such a visit be received?
Dr. Barry White:
When I was in Turkey on 21 and 22 October, I attended a number of trials and spoke, mainly through interpreters because my Turkish is non-existent, to bring solidarity and greetings from the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, and European Federation of Journalists, EFJ. I sought to find out what was going on. I have observed the odatv.comtrial since 2012 and it is still ongoing. When I was in the court I noticed there was a new judge and prosecution counsel and the judge said the previous two had either fled or were in prison. That is the state of things now. They are tumultuous. I have been to the courts and spoken to journalists, as well as some of the defence counsels. I have offered solidarity and support and taken back messages. My union adopted a journalist involved with the odatv.comtrial all those years ago and we are still awaiting justice.
The important work is done on the ground with our affiliates in Turkey who visit their members and other journalists who are in prison, or else they raise awareness with the authorities about people in isolation. The real work is done by journalists supporting other journalists.
I very much appreciate the information brought to us and awareness is important. I am still not clear on where the Irish Government is on this. I asked a question of whether there has been an official statement or if our Minister has relayed the concerns directly to the Turkish Embassy. I understand there is a European option and the Chairman made a very good proposal, which we will accept. We can raise matters in the Dáil and Seanad directly with the Minister and as individual members we can do that outside the committee. As foreign affairs spokesperson for my party I will do that. Do the witnesses know what has been done? There has been a three-month delay in responding to the letter so what has been done in the interim?
I support the Chairman's proposal that the committee writes to the Minister. I also suggest we ask him not only to outline the concerns expressed here with the Foreign Affairs Council but also directly with the Turkish ambassador. Have we already invited the Turkish ambassador before us?
No, it does not. I have asked about specific items. It indicates that he highlighted concerns at one EU Council meeting. It does not outline any bilateral discussions or meetings. That is why I asked the question.
Mr. Carson indicated some requests of the Turkish Government. They all seem very reasonable. Perhaps after the meeting we could possibly agree a motion related to the letter. It requests the release of journalists and it was read into the record today. The requests involve nothing radical and conform to European norms with respect to how we would like to see journalists operate in a free and democratic society. It is something we should seriously consider as a committee and perhaps adopt today.
Mr. Ronan Brady:
There was a question about the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. We have not received any privileged communication from the Department that I am aware of but we ask that all the institutions of the Irish Government be as active as possible on this. We do not want to go back over old ground.
We have referred to follow-up action. There is a time constraint on the delegation as it has another commitment. It is slightly after 12.30 p.m. now. I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Deputy O'Brien asked me to facilitate a meeting when he got the request, and we did that within a very short timeframe. It is important, as the witnesses said, to create an awareness. We will take the follow-up action that we can. We appreciate the presentations from the delegation today on a very important subject.