“Turkey Purge” watch group keeps finger on crackdown pulse

The "TurkeyPurge" group is the first item to come up under the hashtag #TurkeyPurge active on Twitter. Screenshot from Twitter, 14 December 2016

The hashtag #TurkeyPurge continues to trend internationally five months after the attempted coup in Turkey. One watch group with an online presence actually calls itself “Turkey Purge”, dedicating its work to monitoring and exposing threats and human rights abuses reported in the country.

by Ana Ribeiro ; The article was originally published by ECPMF

The crackdown against Turkey’s journalists, educators and others has been extended under the “state of emergency” declared by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The first element confronting viewers on the “Turkey Purge” website are counters that go up quickly: On 14 December, they showed that over 115,000 people had been fired and over 40,000 arrested (including nearly 150 journalists); and that some 2,100 schools and 195 media outlets had been shut down.

The group’s journalists are in exile, afraid for themselves and their loved ones. Along with the media professionals behind platforms such as P24 and Turkish Minute, they manage to bring to the public up-to-date news and information often blocked in Turkey.

The ECPMF has interviewed the people behind the “Turkey Purge” watch group, who are keeping themselves anonymous for security reasons. Below you can read the full transcript.

ECPMF: When exactly did you start Turkey Purge?

In late July. In the first week of the post-coup crackdown.

What are your short- and long-term goals with the website?

Short-term: To make voices of Turkey’s victimized people heard in the global media. In the massive crackdown, more than 195 media organizations have been shut down. 145 critical journalists are behind bars. Journalists who are not jailed yet, or newspapers that still can be publish cannot report serious human rights violations in the massive crackdown, due to the extreme government oppression. There are tremendous tragedies in the country that cannot make their ways to the headlines. So, we want to be the voice of those silenced.

Long-term: To raise full awareness about the persecution in Turkey.

Do you have any connections to political groups or movements?

We have no editorial connection to anybody. We are a small group of young journalists who are trying to be the voice for Turkish people who suffer under an oppressive regime. We all have personal stories that made us start this website. Family members of some of us are imprisoned. Some of us have close friends who are currently being tortured in jail. Some of us were personally purged by the government in the massive crackdown. Couple of us have already been living outside, some have just barely managed to flee the country. This is us. A group of young journalists who already has what is needed to start this website; journalism skills, a fifty-dollar template and the will to fight against oppression.

Yet, as the post-coup persecution focuses on specific target groups, our readers base mostly consists of those minorities including Kurds, Gulenists, Alevis, leftists and LGBT activists.

Have you gotten any feedback from the Turkish government? Have you gotten feedback from organizations in favour or against what the website is doing? Any feedback from members of the public?

Both our website and Twitter account were banned in Turkey. Those who do not use a VPN provider, have no chance of following us. We have received endorsement from so many credible international institutions. We are being contacted by well-known journalists from across the world who all appreciate what we are trying to do. Our data has contributed to many stories in many newspapers from all around the world. We gave interviews to some foreign media outlets as well. People from different countries offered their help to us; they are willing to translate our content into their local languages. We perceive these people as real friends of Turkey. Also, relatives of purge victims often express their gratitude for our humble work.

Meanwhile, we are, for sure, being insulted by government loyalists on a regular basis, especially on the social media. But we are glad that they are also ditching the government ban and following us.

How much has the website grown since you started, and how do you measure that?

We do not use any specific measure to check out the impact we have created via our reports. But the responses we receive from people have been surging every day. Respected journalists, local and international organizations frequently recommend our channel for a better track of the purge. Our posts receive around 3 million impressions on Twitter, according to data from the social media platform.

What is the situation with the arrests of journalists at the moment – would you say the rate of arrests is at its peak since the coup or is it showing signs of slowing down?

Arrests of the journalists were at the peak in the very aftermath of the coup attempt when dozens of our colleagues were lined up on way to the courthouse in that widely-shared infamous picture. With the exception of arrest of our colleagues from Cumhuriyet daily, we haven’t seen such a massive imprisonment since then but the government still keeps hunting down our friends. One or two reporters are still being detained every week.

How many tip submissions do you get on average per week? How do you proceed when you get a tip? Does it necessarily become an article, do you sometimes pass it along to another organization…?

The number of tips we receive changes between 10 to 15 every week. They all get through a verification process. We mostly try to get in touch with the senders. While we ignore so many tips due to lack of credibility, we have come up with a sensibility towards tips over time through which we feel if a tip is frank or not in the first place. It is sometimes impossible to be sure about their authenticity. So, if a tip is huge and we think bigger media outlets would check its authenticity better than us, we first hand it over to them.

What are your main areas of concern and trends you see in the crackdown by Turkish authorities?

Declaring state of emergency, the Turkish government has officially suspended the European Convention on Human Rights in July. Since then, human rights violations have become Turkey’s new normal. Even though the convention states that Articles 2 (Right to life), Article 3 (Prohibition of torture) and Article 7 (No punishment without law) cannot be derogated in any case, those are now the most violated ones in Turkey: Suspicious deaths in prisons have become common occurrence, reached 25 including teachers, prosecutors, businessmen. Claims of torture have skyrocketed in post-coup crackdown. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published reports of torture, voicing their extreme concerns about Turkish prisoners’ lives. Under the state of emergency, the government has seized thousands of companies, purged more than 115 thousand government employees without fair trial.

Attacks against freedom of speech, media freedom, minorities and pressure against elected Kurdish politicians are among main areas of concern for us. As for as we follow the developments, the government succeeded in silencing the media in Turkey with a few exceptions. Now, Kurdish politicians are on the target. Officials seem to be trying to link the main opposition party with the government-declared criminal groups. That being said, the control in the public level seems to be lost already. Ruling party supporters know no boundaries when they suspect any opposition to the official narrative regarding the government’s post-coup purge. Lynching critics in any possible way has become common occurrence very recently.

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You can submit a tip to the “Turkey Purge” watch group via their online form.

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