ISTANBUL — Turkey deported a Dutch financial journalist on Thursday, claiming it was acting on a tip from Dutch intelligence officers that said she had links with armed militants in Syria, highlighting the risks freelance journalists face when reporting far from home.
Ans Boersma, a 30-year-old freelance reporter who has covered Turkey for nearly two years, informed colleagues in Turkey that she was boarding a plane after being detained the previous day. She had been at an immigration office applying for her residence permit when she was taken into custody, according to Financieele Dagblad, one of the newspapers where she worked.
“And then suddenly you are on the plane back to the Netherlands. Declared an unwanted person in Turkey,” Boersma tweeted.
Financieele Dagblad editor Jan Bonjer called her deportation a “flagrant violation of press freedom,” raising fears she was being punished for her reporting in a country that jails more journalists than any other and has banished other foreign correspondents for writing stories critical of government policy.
However, Boersma’s may be more a case of prosecutorial overreach in her home country.
Fahrettin Altun, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, expressed “regret” in a statement, saying Boersma was not being kicked out for her reporting but after Turkish authorities were alerted that she was connected with a terror organization.
“The Turkish authorities have recently received intelligence from the Dutch police that Ms. Boersma had links to a designated terrorist organization and a request for information about her movements in and out of Turkey,” he said. “Ms. Boersma’s deportation was in no way related to her journalistic activities during her stay in Turkey.”
Altun later tweeted, “The Netherlands told Turkey that the reporter, who was deported today, had links to Jabhat al-Nusra. We acted on intelligence from the Netherlands and took a precautionary measure.”
Jabhat al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria’s Idlib province, the largest opposition group fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. It has been designated a terror group by the United Nations, Turkey and others.
Boersma was ensnared in a Dutch investigation of a friend accused of terrorism with whom she severed ties before the probe was even launched, said Kiran Nazish, the founder and director of the Coalition for Women in Journalism, a global network that offers support to female journalists and to which Boersma belongs.
“The Dutch government has acted irresponsibly in this matter. Their diplomats acted as if they were trying to stop the deportation. Because they did not initially inform her what this was about, they created confusion that this was a Turkey matter, where things have been precarious for journalists,” Nazish told Al-Monitor.
Prosecutors in the Netherlands said Boersma was connected with a terrorism probe, though she herself is not accused of terrorism but “other criminal offenses,” according to Trouw, another newspaper she wrote for. She was not arrested upon her arrival at Schiphol airport, the prosecutor’s office said. The Dutch authorities consider Boersma a "person of interest" but had not sought her extradition, Reuters cited a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's officer as saying.
News program Nieuwsuur reported Boersma was suspected of forgery for helping a former Jabhat al-Nusra member obtain paperwork for his Dutch visa.
In her statement to police, Boersma denied wrongdoing in Turkey and said she did not know why she was being deported, according to a copy obtained by Al-Monitor.
The Media and Law Studies Association, a nonprofit that works on free speech in Turkey and provided Boersma with a lawyer, said the deportation was illegal and that it would pursue the case.
“If a credible foreign government agency tells you that one of their citizens has links to terrorism, you don't take any chances. The Dutch authorities alone are in a position to explain why they arrived at that conclusion. We won't speculate on the credibility of their intelligence,” Altun said on Twitter.
Turkey and the Netherlands restored diplomatic ties in July after a bitter row in 2017, when the Dutch government refused to allow members of Erdogan’s government to campaign for a referendum to expand his presidential powers among members of the Turkish diaspora in the Netherlands.
Boersma, a soft-spoken redhead who trained as an anthropologist and previously lectured in journalism at Ede University in the Netherlands, wrote primarily about the Turkish economy. Her recent work published by Financieele Dagblad includes a report on inflation and a story about Istanbul’s new airport.
She left Turkey with just the backpack she had taken with her to the immigration center, wearing clothes from the day before. She was not allowed to go home to collect personal belongings, said Nazish.
Freelance journalists working overseas face greater risks than their counterparts who are on staff and enjoy institutional support, she said. “This case had nothing to do with Ans’ reporting but still underscores the precarious nature of freelancing. Freelancers don’t have lawyers. They are completely reliant on their community, families or their countries of origin to offer them legal assistance when something like this happens.”
In Turkey, foreign journalists must apply for press accreditation at the presidency to reside and work in Turkey. In past years, foreign journalists who fell afoul of the government due to their reporting were sometimes unable to obtain their press cards, often given no explanation about why they were denied. But Boersma had received her credentials from the Turkish government just last week.
Turkey detained a Wall Street Journal reporter in late 2016 over his social media posts and threatened him with expulsion, forcing him to leave the country. Five months later, police jailed a French photojournalist for more than a month without charge while he was shooting a controversial dam project for National Geographic. He was deported upon his release. More recently, Austrian student and journalist Max Zirngast was freed in December after three months in detention for terrorism-related charges, but he is barred from leaving Turkey.
Still, foreign correspondents face far fewer restrictions than their Turkish counterparts. At least 68 of them are in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Local watchdogs put the number far higher, counting about 150 media workers in jail.
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