US journalist barred from entering Turkey

An American reporter living and working in Turkey has been barred from re-entering the country and forced to fly home in the latest incident in which a foreign journalist has been denied entry or accreditation.

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Freelance correspondent David Lepeska, who wrote for the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Foreign Affairs and others, told Reuters on Monday that immigration officers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport informed him an “entry ban” had been placed on his visa.

It was not immediately clear why Lepeska, 42, had been denied entry but he is the latest journalist to be stopped at the border, heightening international concern about Turkey’s record on press freedom.

A senior Turkish government official told Reuters that Lepeska did not have a press card or a press visa and was not employed by a media company.

“Individuals who go through the proper legal channels do not face similar problems,” the official said, adding that the case was not a matter of press freedom but of legal procedure.

After waiting for clearance for 20 hours, Lepeska was given the option of either returning to Italy, from where he had arrived, or flying to the United States, he said in a statement.

Lepeska’s ban comes amid heightened sensitivity towards coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis and security operations against Kurdish militants.

A German public television journalist and a Russian news agency representative were both turned away this month, and Turkish media reports quoted a Greek photographer working for a German newspaper as saying he was refused entry at Istanbul airport on Saturday.

On Sunday, a prominent Dutch journalist who has criticised President Tayyip Erdogan was briefly detained.

In February, Norway’s Aftenpost said Turkey had refused to accredit its correspondent. Der Spiegel of Germany withdrew its correspondent in March when his accreditation was denied.

NATO member and European Union hopeful Turkey ranks 151st out of 180 nations in Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Foreign media outlets in Turkey have generally been spared the pressure faced by some local press, which have seen journalists prosecuted, as well as newspapers seized or closed in recent months and broadcasters taken off air.

The government has repeatedly denied muzzling the press, saying that no media workers are prosecuted for their journalistic work and that such cases are part of efforts to weed out support for illegal militant groups.