Turkey deports journalist for tweets criticising government
ISTANBUL - Turkey deported on Friday an Azeri journalist for tweets criticising the government, his newspaper reported, stoking concerns about state efforts to muzzle the media.
Mahir Zeylanov's expulsion was yet to be officially confirmed, although a photo doing the rounds on Twitter appeared to show him being escorted by police through an airport.
It comes after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government this week passed new Internet curbs that sparked concern among rights groups and in Brussels and Washington.
Zeylanov is from the Zaman daily, a paper critical of the government and close to Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher living in the United States whom Erdogan has blamed for orchestrating a recent corruption probe against members of his inner circle.
The newspaper said that Zeylanov, sent back to Azerbaijan, was put on a list of foreign individuals barred from entering Turkey because of "posting tweets against high-level state officials".
It cited a Turkish law that allows deportations of those "whose residence in Turkey is considered detrimental to public security and political and administrative requirements".
Zeynalov is already the target of a criminal complaint filed by Erdogan himself for tweets in December about the graft probe, with the prime minister saying he posted "heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity," Zaman reported.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Friday that Zeynalov's deportation "is a further setback for the dire state of media freedom in Turkey."
"Freedom of expression does not stop at statements deemed proper by those in power, and limiting this right will further tighten the control of media," the body's media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic said.
US-based rights group Freedom House said in a report this week that Erdogan's government was "improperly using its leverage over media to limit public debate about government actions and punish journalists and media owners who dispute government claims".
Over the past year dozens of journalists have been fired because of government pressure, and threats by government officials against journalists have become common, Freedom House said.
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists says that the aspiring EU member state jails more reporters than any other country including serial offenders Iran, China and Eritrea.
Erdogan has responded to the corruption probe, which has implicated members of his inner circle and their families, by sacking or reassigning thousands of police and prosecutors thought to be close to Gulen.
Critics say that the new Internet curbs, which will enable the blocking of webpages without a court order, is an attempt to Erdogan to silence reporting on the scandal, details of which have been leaked online.
European Parliament chief Martin Schulz called it a "step back in an already suffocating environment for media freedom", while the US State Department said there were concerns that "these proposed measures are not compatible with international standards on freedom of expression".
Erdogan, in power since 2003 and facing important local elections on March 30, is also seeking to push through legislation that critics say will impinge on the independence of the judiciary.
The political instability, coming on the back of a heavy-handed response to protests last June in which six people died, is taking its toll on Turkey's economy, with the lira sliding to record lows in recent months.
Activists called for a demonstration in central Istanbul on Saturday evening against the new Internet restrictions, which still have to be approved by President Abdullah Gul, an ally of Erdogan's.