World Press Freedom Day 20024


May 2, 2024 | 12:00pm – 1:30pm EST | National Press Club Washington D.C.

On May 2, 2024, from 12:00pm to 4:00pm EST, Tthe Journalists and Writers Foundation, in collaboration with Advocates of Silenced Turkey, organized the World Press Freedom Day 2024 event on “Media in Turmoil: Remembering Persecuted and Exiled Journalists from Turkey” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In recognition of World Press Freedom Day, the event featured two panel discussions aimed at shining a light on the challenges faced by journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey and around the world. The discussions served as a platform for raising awareness and fostering dialogue on the trend of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Panel 1 delved into the plight of persecuted journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey, showcased their struggles, and shed light on the government’s attempts to stifle independent journalism. Panelists discussed potential solutions to safeguard journalists’ rights and defend fundamental freedoms. The event served as a crucial platform for honoring courageous journalists who risk their lives to uphold democracy and transparency. Attendees came together to address the challenges confronting press freedom, reaffirming their commitment to the vital role of a free and independent press in society.

In his Opening Remarks, Mehmet Kilic, President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, welcomed attendees to the World Press Freedom Day 2024 event at the National Press Club, focused on the persecution and exile of journalists from Turkey. He emphasized the importance of a free press in a democratic society and highlighted the challenges faced by journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey and worldwide. The event aimed to bring awareness to the threats against press freedom and discuss potential solutions to protect journalists’ rights. Two panel discussions were scheduled to address the issues faced by persecuted journalists and exiled journalists from Turkey. Kilic invited attendees to join the conversation and advocate for the protection of journalists and press freedom. He also invited Mike Smith to give welcome remarks before the program began.



Mike Smith, member of the Board of Governors at the National Press Club, welcomed everyone to the National Press Club for World Press Freedom Week. He emphasized the importance of press freedom worldwide and mentioned the cases of journalists held in Russian prisons. Smith also shared his personal connection to Turkey through his daughter-in-law and grandson. He highlighted the need to protect journalists in dangerous situations and thanked everyone for attending the event.

After the Welcome speech by Mike Smith, Mehmet Kilic brought attention to the lack of press freedom and safety for journalists in Turkey, emphasizing the need to defend journalism. He highlighted the Photo Exhibition showcasing imprisoned journalists from various backgrounds in Turkey and encouraged attendees to view it during the break. Kilic mentioned the reports available on Turkish journalists in exile and those still in prison for interested individuals to pick up after the event. The moderator for Panel 1, Se Hoon Kim, was introduced as a senior correspondent and assignment editor at Global Strat View, with a focus on US Department of State and US Congress issues related to East and South Asian Affairs and other global topics. Kilic welcomed Kim to lead the panel discussion.

Se Hoon Kim, Senior Correspondent and Assignment Editor at Global Strat View was the moderator of Panel 1. He expressed gratitude to attendees for joining the event and acknowledged the historic significance of the occasion and highlighted the strong relationship between Turkish and Korean people dating back to the Korean War. Kim emphasized the bond of solidarity between the two nations and expressed pride in standing with Turkish people as a journalist. He thanked the audience for the honor of participating in the event.

Abdülhamit Bilici, former Editor-in-Chief of Zaman Newspaper, expressed gratitude to the Journalist and Writers Foundation and the Advocates of Silenced Turkey for the opportunity to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, DC during World Press Freedom Day 2024. He highlighted the critical role of journalists as the voice of the voiceless and oppressed, emphasizing the impact of silencing journalists on society as a whole. Bilici shared his personal experience as the former Editor-in-Chief of a Turkish newspaper that was abruptly shut down and turned into a government mouthpiece. He discussed the alarming state of press freedom in Turkey, with over 25 journalists currently imprisoned on questionable grounds. Bilici mentioned specific cases of journalists facing unjust imprisonment, including Mehmet Kamis and Aladdin Kaya. He traced the history of media persecution in Turkey back to the early years of the Republic, noting a pattern of marginalizing certain segments of society. Bilici discussed how President Erdogan initially appeared as a champion of democracy but later used control over the media to consolidate power and suppress dissent. He described the disillusionment of those who had supported Erdogan’s efforts to democratize Turkey, only to be targeted by his authoritarian tactics. Bilici concluded by underscoring the tragic irony of being persecuted by the very leader who was expected to advance democracy and European Union membership for Turkey.

Arbana Xharra, an investigative journalist from Kosovo, recounted her experiences during the war in 1999 under the Serbian regime and the subsequent intervention by the United States and EU allies. Following the war, she began her career as a journalist, realizing the power of speaking for those who cannot. Xharra discussed the influence of countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, particularly under Erdogan, in Kosovo and the Balkans, using religion and financial assistance programs to spread their influence. She highlighted Erdogan’s authoritarian tactics and ambitions to become a leader in the Muslim world, despite his actions against the Kurds. Xharra emphasized the cultural impact of this influence, with Erdogan’s agenda gaining support from various sectors, including media, education, and parliament members in Kosovo. She shared her personal experience of exile and attack for speaking out against Erdogan’s actions in Kosovo, underscoring the challenges faced by journalists in addressing these issues. Xharra raised concerns about Erdogan’s efforts to sway the Balkans away from the European Union and towards anti-Western values, despite the region’s historical ties to the US and Western support.

Ergun Babahan, former Editor-in-Chief of Sabah Newspaper is a liberal journalist exiled in Canada. He shared his experiences of leaving Turkey due to media suppression under Erdogan’s regime. He discussed the ease of obtaining permanent residence in Canada compared to the US and highlighted the restrictions on travel faced by exiled journalists in the US. Babahan linked Turkey’s ongoing issues to its foundation, referencing the Armenian Genocide and the state’s historical use of violence against perceived threats like the Hizmet Movement and Kurds. He criticized the Turkish government for its harsh treatment of dissenting journalists, including recent arrests and humiliations. Babahan noted the world’s fatigue with Erdogan and Turkey, mentioning Biden’s reluctance to meet with Erdogan and global focus on other international crises. He emphasized the challenges faced by Kurdish journalists and the US’s strict visa policies towards them. Babahan underscored the significance of the Kurdish issue in determining Turkey’s future and called for dialogue and cooperation among liberal journalists, Kurds, the Hizmet Movement, and other key stakeholders to address the country’s democratic and lawful challenges. Babahan expressed pessimism about Turkey’s future if these issues are not addressed, citing a history of political instability and corruption in the country.

Kani Xulam, President of the American Kurdish Network, spoke at the event honoring journalists in Turkey, highlighting the importance of the media in democratic societies. He referenced Thomas Jefferson’s belief in the necessity of a free press for a functioning government, contrasting the situation in the US with the lack of press freedom in Turkey. Xulam discussed the challenges faced by journalists in Turkey under leaders like Erdogan, Putin, and Modi, emphasizing the need to discuss and address the issues of media oppression and government control. He shared the stories of Tulay Acikkollu and Medina Unel, both of whom faced persecution in Turkey – Acikkollu in exile and Unel tragically taking her own life. Xulam highlighted the struggles of Kurds and Turks in the region and called for a free press as a solution to addressing political conflicts and promoting democracy. He ended with a quote from Condoleezza Rice discussing the treatment of Kurds in Turkey and emphasized the importance of a free press for the happiness of humanity.

During the Q & A Session, Se Hoon Kim raised the point that dictatorships or authoritarian regimes do not implement actions without testing them on their own people first. He acknowledged Abdülhamit’s insight that the issues with freedom of the press in Turkey did not begin with Erdogan but have deeper roots in the country’s foundation. Se Hoon Kim asked Abdülhamit to elaborate on this historical context, emphasizing the importance of understanding it and inquiring about the potential implications for the future if the current regime and its practices continue in the Turkish government.

Abdülhamit Bilici highlighted the lack of understanding of democracy in Turkey, noting that simply having a republic, like other dictatorial regimes have, is not enough. He emphasized the importance of democratizing the republic by implementing a system of checks and balances, including an independent judiciary, a powerful parliament, and a free press to control and check the powers of the executive. Bilici explained that the lack of understanding of the dynamics of power, which leads to corruption, is a common issue in developing countries, particularly in the Middle East. He described how corrupt and powerful leaders view institutions like independent judiciary and free media as threats and seek to destroy them, as seen in Turkey under Erdogan’s regime. Bilici referenced the 2013 corruption scandal in Turkey and Erdogan’s response, highlighting how Erdogan chose to destroy the judiciary and free media rather than face the allegations through legal means. This resulted in Turkey’s plummeting rankings in global freedom and rule of law indexes. Bilici detailed how Erdogan has manipulated the judiciary to persecute dissenters under the guise of legal procedures, showcasing a dangerous model that could be adopted by other countries.

Se Hoon Kim mentioned how the restriction of free media and threats against journalists in Turkey are now appearing in other countries, such as Kosovo, as highlighted earlier by Arbana. He asked Arbana to elaborate on this concerning development.

Arbana Xharra pointed out the concerning trend of leaders in other countries, like in Albania, emulating Erdogan’s tactics of controlling the media and judiciary. She highlighted the lack of response from Western leaders to these authoritarian practices and the need for international support and voices to speak out against such threats to press freedom. Xharra shared her personal experience of facing attacks and challenges as a journalist, including being brutally attacked without proper investigation and accountability. She emphasized the vulnerability of countries like Kosovo to Erdogan’s influence due to economic difficulties and manipulation of youth through media control. Xharra stressed the importance of exposing Erdogan’s dangerous agenda, which uses religion to increase his influence and suppress dissent. She also mentioned the support she received from liberal imams who recognized the threat posed by extremist groups and called for finding ways to counter Erdogan’s harmful tactics.

Se Hoon Kim noted that there appears to be a deliberate use of apathy by totalitarian governments, as highlighted by Ergun and Kani in their speeches. They mentioned the lack of attention and action regarding issues like the plight of the Kurds and attacks on journalists. Kim asked them to elaborate on this concept of the “weaponization of apathy.” He also raised concerns about the future implications if this trend of apathy and lack of action continues over the next 5 to 10 years.

Ergun Babahan discussed the strategy of dehumanization used by totalitarian governments before committing acts of violence or injustice against certain groups, citing examples such as the demonization of Jews in Nazi propaganda. He highlighted the historical pattern of dehumanizing tactics used against various groups like the Hizmet Movement and Kurds in Turkey, tracing it back to the Armenian genocide. Babahan shared a personal experience from 1978 where police and fascists attacked leftist students, resulting in casualties, and emphasized the prevalence of a powerful founding state mentality in Turkey. He attributed this approach to figures like Talat Pasha in 1915, who initiated policies to eliminate perceived threats to the state.

Kani Xulam discussed historical events in Kosovo and Turkey, drawing parallels between the responses of leaders to acts of violence committed by individuals. He compared the reactions of Milosevic in Kosovo and Erdogan in Turkey when incidents occurred and highlighted the potential consequences for Erdogan in the future. Xulam also touched upon the concept of “original sin” in Turkey, referring to the Armenian Genocide, and suggested that confronting this past could pave the way for reconciliation and a brighter future. He emphasized the importance of moving past conflicts and focusing on progress and innovation, using the example of inventing smartphones.

Se Hoon Kim raised the question of political change in Turkey, with some speculating that it could lead to a better government while others believe it will continue to follow Erdogan’s practices. Kim invited comments from the panelists on their thoughts regarding the potential outcomes of the political shift in Turkey.

Abdülhamit Bilici discussed the recent election in Turkey as a positive development, demonstrating that the country is not headed towards dictatorship like other authoritarian regimes. He highlighted the economic motivations behind the election results, particularly the concerns of pensioners struggling to survive. While the opposition now has room for improvement, Bilici emphasized the need for a shift in mentality towards democracy and rule of law. He expressed concerns about the current state of journalism, judiciary, and politics in Turkey, urging for changes in all sectors of society to move towards a more democratic and rule-based system similar to countries like South Korea. Bilici concluded by stressing the importance of deep-seated changes in society as a whole in order for Turkey to achieve economic development and democracy.

Se Hoon Kim asked Arbana Xharra about the impact of Turkey becoming a functioning democracy, particularly from a Balkan perspective. Kim highlighted the aspiration for Turkey to achieve democracy and inquired about the potential influence this could have in the Balkans and the broader Western world.

Arbana Xharra discussed the challenges of democracy in Turkey from an outside perspective, particularly highlighting issues such as corruption, nepotism, and the lack of media freedom. Xharra noted the division within the Turkish diaspora, with some supporting Erdogan while others are against him, and emphasized the importance of media in shaping public perception. She expressed concerns about Erdogan’s manipulation of the media to portray a particular image and mentioned the impact of diaspora communities on political outcomes. Xharra also criticized the international community, including the EU and Biden Administration, for their lack of action against Erdogan’s actions, such as in Northern Syria. Despite expressing skepticism about Erdogan’s removal from power, Xharra highlighted the need for accountability and transparency in addressing the crimes committed by the Turkish government.

Se Hoon Kim asked for Arbana Xharra’s warning to the world in light of the issues of apathy and the historical impact of events such as the Armenian Genocide and the ongoing struggles of the Kurdish people.

Ergun Babahan raised concerns about the potential spread of authoritarian practices beyond Turkey, given the current situation in the country. He highlighted Erdogan’s leverage over the Turkish community in Europe, mentioning concerns about Turkish intelligence agency agents in several European countries and the potential for Erdogan to destabilize Europe. Babahan discussed the economic ties between Turkey and European countries, emphasizing the complexities involved in addressing the Turkish government’s actions. He also mentioned Turkey’s military involvement in various countries and the Kurdish resistance in Northern Iraq. Babahan expressed skepticism about Erdogan’s ability to maintain power, citing potential limitations on his actions due to international pressure and personal vulnerabilities.

Se Hoon Kim highlighted the use of the Kurdish people as pawns by the Erdogan regime, particularly in weaponizing migration to put pressure on EU countries. He suggested that Erdogan’s manipulation of the migration issue may be a factor in influencing the decisions of European countries. Kim asked for further insights from Kani on the Kurdish perspective and emphasized the importance of understanding these dynamics for broader awareness.

Kani Xulam discussed the lack of a political relationship and efforts to address the Kurdish issue in Turkey, particularly in the context of the Syrian conflict and the rise of Kurdish awareness. Xulam emphasized the importance of Kurdish rights and the need for a free press and cohesive government institutions in Turkey to address underlying problems. He expressed skepticism about Erdogan’s ability to fully control the rising tide of Kurdish awareness, suggesting that education and self-empowerment may be key to resolving the longstanding issues. Xulam highlighted the critical role of Kurdish votes in Turkish elections and the significance of Kurdish support for political candidates.

Se Hoon Kim asked the panelist to provide a quick message for the journalist communities, media, and general public. Kim urged the panelists to share what they can do and should be doing in light of the ongoing issues discussed. The message is intended to reach a wide audience and offer guidance on how to approach the challenges at hand.

Abdulhamit Bilici highlighted the importance of preserving democracies and emphasized the need to maintain Turkey and America as democratic nations. He expressed appreciation for journalists worldwide facing challenges in their work, including the dangers they confront, and the sacrifices made. Bilici called for support for the journalists in Turkey who are imprisoned for expressing their views, urging colleagues in free countries to remember and advocate for them as a means of supporting Turkish democracy and press freedom.

Arbana Xharra emphasized the importance of addressing the threats faced by journalists in Turkey and called on the international media to focus on and report more on the situation in the country. Xharra highlighted the need for collaboration and raising awareness within the international community to shed light on the challenges journalists face worldwide. She also pointed out the influence of diaspora communities, both supportive and in opposition to regimes like that of Erdogan in Turkey, stressing that failure to investigate and expose such issues could have repercussions on other countries and their leaders, especially those in the Balkans who may be targeted for their alignment with Western values.

Ergun Babahan expressed skepticism about the ability of Turkish journalists to report truthfully due to fears of state repression. He highlighted a case where a journalist tweeted about a controversial issue involving Israel and Turkey, showing the impact of independent reporting. Babahan emphasized the need for unity among diverse groups of journalists, including leftists, Kurds, and conservatives, to promote respect for the rule of law and truth in addressing Turkey’s challenges. Babahan suggested that overcoming divisions and changing mindsets within Turkish society would be necessary steps towards initiating positive change in the country.

Kani Xulam emphasized the importance of unity among different groups within Turkey, such as liberal and conservative Turks, as well as Kurdish conservatives and liberals, in order to work together towards a better future. Xulam also highlighted the need for support from the United States in promoting democracy and supporting dissidents in Turkey, mentioning the potential impact of raising awareness about prominent figures facing persecution in the country. Xulam expressed disappointment in the lack of action taken by President Biden in addressing these issues and urged for using America’s influence to give a platform to those who are suffering and facing challenges in Turkey.

Journalists Group Photo - JWF, Remembering Exiled Journalists from Turkey
Photo Exhibition - Persecuted Journalists in Turkey