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Turkish Protesters Refuse To Leave Gezi Park


Protesters who were camped out in Istanbul's Gezi Park say they won't pack up and go home despite a government offer to avoid bulldozing the park without court approval and a public referendum. Protest organizers say that other demands such as releasing detained protesters have not been met.

And meanwhile, officials have warned that if demonstrators don't leave the park, police may be sent in to clear them out. Turkey's response to more than two weeks of unrest has involved more than riot police and teargas. Lawyers were arrested for protesting police brutality. Doctors who treated wounded protesters say their licenses are now under official scrutiny. And broadcasters that aired coverage of the protests have been fined or ordered off the air. From Istanbul, NPR's Peter Kenyon has more on the media's struggle to cover the protests.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The failure of Turkey's most watched news channels to cover the outbreak of the Gezi Park unrest has now become a running joke among protesters. Demonstrator Lale Barlas points out that popular penguin t-shirts being worn around Gezi Park intended the shame one channel for showing a wildlife documentary during the police crackdown. On one shirt, the penguin is wearing a gas mask.

LALE BARLAS: It's a penguin with a mask and an anarchy sign. Penguin because instead of showing all of this stuff, the TVs showed periodicals about penguins, and so now our icon has become a penguin.


KENYON: But a few channels, such as Halk Haber TV did go live to Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Halk TV became hugely popular among protesters and as word spread on the Internet and social media, its viewership spiked, all of which did not go unnoticed in the halls of government. Turkey's broadcast media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, levied fines on Halk TV and three other channels for, quote, "harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people."

Another channel, Hayat TV, was ordered off the air completely, ostensibly because it didn't have a license. In an open letter published online, a Hayat TV official said the state regulator has refused to grant its license request and ordered it off the air after receiving complaints about Hayat TV's coverage of the protests.

SIMON: Suat Kiniklioglu, a former member of parliament for the ruling AK Party notes that Halk TV and the other channels that were punished tend to be sympathetic towards the opposition, so the government's displeasure isn't surprising. But that's no excuse, he says, for these sanctions if Turkey wants to call itself a democracy.

SUAT KINIKLIOGLU: Some of the broadcasting has been excessive, I acknowledge that, but I don't think the government has any business in interfering in these things. I think the viewership in a liberal democracy should decide what channel they want to watch.

KENYON: Nina Ognianova, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, says these incidents are just the latest effort by the government to punish independent or unfriendly media.

NINA OGNIANOVA: It was indeed not a moment of glory for mainstream media in Turkey, which could have seen this as the story of their lifetime. This is another message for the media to get in line and to censor such critical coverage.

KENYON: The BBC today, says it's suspending its partnership with Turkish broadcaster NTV after the channel refused to air a BBC program on press freedom in Turkey. And Twitter, very popular with protesters, is under scrutiny by the government for not paying taxes in Turkey and for not sharing content and access information with prosecutors. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.