A journalist and a lawyer, both from Turkey and living in exile, rode bicycles for 800 kilometers (497 miles) between the French city of Strasbourg and The Hague in the Netherlands to call attention to the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, the TR724 news website reported on Tuesday.
Turkish journalists are often targeted and jailed for their journalistic activities. Turkey, which was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index, is known as one of the top jailers of journalists around the world, although there are conflicting figures about the exact number of journalists behind bars in the country.
Dozens of journalists critical of the government were jailed in Turkey on bogus terrorism or coup charges following a failed coup in July 2016 as part of an anti-coup fight launched by the government. Some of these journalists have been released from prison after serving their sentences.
The bike-riding protest staged by journalist Nurullah Kaya, former Gaziantep representative for the now-closed-down Zaman daily, and lawyer Bilal Durmuş began at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg and ended in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
The Zaman daily, which had the largest daily circulation — with more than 600,000 subscribers — in Turkey at the time, was seized and shut down by the Turkish government in 2016 over links to the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The Turkish government accuses Gülen and his followers of orchestrating the failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels the movement a terrorist organization. The movement denies any involvement in the coup and any terrorist activity.
Speaking to TR724 about the protest, Kaya said their efforts will continue until there are no journalists left in Turkish prisons.
Stating that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are in grave danger in Turkey, Kaya added that the country currently has more than 70 journalists in prison, while other independent journalists are dealing with multiple lawsuits filed against them.
“No one is free in a country where journalists are not free. They are not free because the will of societies that can’t access correct information is restricted and their ability to think is hindered,” Kaya said, criticizing Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the ECtHR for being slow in concluding petitions from political dissidents who claim they were subjected to rights violations.
Kaya also said Turkish journalists living in exile are frequently targeted in attempts by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to silence them, with the government also banning access to online dailies and news websites publishing stories critical of it in order to prevent people from accessing accurate information.