An unprecedented ban on Turkish journalists raised questions on Sweden's reputation as one of the best countries for press freedoms in the world.
Orhan Sali, Kerim Ulak and Cem Küçük, three Turkish journalists, were scheduled to speak at a conference in Stockholm on Friday but the school where the event would be held decided to scrap it at the last minute, under pressure by Swedish authorities, Kerim Ulak claimed.
Journalists were invited to Sweden by an association of Turks living in Europe for the conference on July 15 coup attempt in Turkey before "some Swedish lawmakers" placed a call to administrators of the event venue and asked them to cancel the event on the grounds that speakers were members of "a marginal group."
Speaking to A Haber TV where he works for, Kerim Ulak gave an account of the incident and slammed Sweden for censorship. "We came here to explain the July 15 coup attempt to Turkish community here and owners of the venue decided to cancel it on Thursday night," Ulak said, citing that they witnessed the phone call to owners by lawmakers from ruling Social Democrats, urging them to cancel the event. "They described us as a marginal group, in a sense, terrorists, and threatened the venue owners they would face action if they don't cancel the hosting of the event," Ulak said. He said the decision at the last minute contradicted with previous permissions for the event, adding that it was strange that Sweden approved the event and issued them visa but then "branded them as terrorists."
The incident drew outrage in Turkey. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told A Haber that the ban was "unacceptable."
Journalists, meanwhile, said they would stage a demonstration outside the venue on Saturday.
Özer Eken, head of Turkish association organizing the event, said Swedish authorities were already informed of the event. "We had permission; we promoted it more than one month ago. We published ads on newspapers and also invited Swedish press to the conference, to enlighten them on what happened during the coup attempt," Eken told A Haber. He said groups critical of Turkey in Sweden "did their best to sabotage the event." Eken said Social Democrat lawmaker Olle Burel was behind the threat to venue owner. "He told them to scrap the event by tomorrow or he would take the case to "certain authorities" and would have left the venue owner without a job.
Kerim Ulak implied that Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) accused of the coup attempt in Turkey and the terrorist group PKK was behind the pressure on them. "Swedish authorities took this decision because of their pressure and branded us as terrorists. If we are terrorists, I call them to arrest us," he said.
Orhan Sali said the incident was "a diplomatic crisis, a blow to democracy," while Ulak said he would file a lawsuit against Sweden for accusing them of being terrorists. "We are just journalists and we were here only for a conference. I wonder why they don't deport us if we are terrorists as they claimed," he said.
Sweden ranks eighth in World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders. It also ranks high among favorite destination of sympathizers of FETÖ and PKK. Some 200 FETÖ members reportedly applied for asylum in Sweden following the coup attempt in July and Swedish authorities have recently announced they would not send asylum seekers back to Turkey even if their requests were turned down, Turkish media outlets recently reported.