Ayse Onal

Nokta weekly, Turkey

As a journalist “living on the edge”, she was reporting on Turkish politics, the Turkish mafia and conflicts in the Middle East, including the Gulf war. She was arrested and detailed in Iraq, she was threatened by Islamic fundamentalists, she was shot and wounded by the Turkish mafia, and she received warnings from the government censorship agency. None of this had stopped her fearless reporting.

Onal graduated with a degree in Psychology in 1978, and worked for treatment of condemned children in prison for three years. After being forced to leave due to her different opinion, she started her journalism life in Nokta Weekly.

In May 1987, her documentary report “Children in cell” about the social and sexual abuse of children in prison caused big trouble for the government, which had to start a reform even though it was just a show. She won National Press Award for this report.

In 1988, she reported how the Iranian civilian refugees were executed by shooting the “Iranian revolution warriors” at the Turkey-Iran border. Also that year, she was the first and only journalist who entered into the region of “Cono Tribe” in Adana, where neither police nor journalist could enter due to life security reason. Her reports helped these people to get their ID cards from the government.

In 1990, she went to Baghdad to follow up the Gulf War. She was arrested with two other Turkish journalists in Ramadi, Iraq. Later that year, she entered into the camp of “Warriors of Iranian people” organization, and was threatened by the Iranian partisans.

In 1991, she was threatened by the fundamentalists upon her report about minorities.

In 1992, together with another woman journalist, she entered into the camp of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Amed region, the existence of which had been denied by the Turkish government. Under 15 days’ heavy fire and bombing, she led to the escaping of Turkish soldiers from the camp.

In 1993, her documentary report regarding the Istanbul Water and Sewer Utility (ISKI) irregularity became one of the biggest scandals in Turkey, leading her to another “National Press Award.” Later that year, she was threatened by unknown sources due to her report about the murder of Cem Ersever, a commander in the Turkish Gendarmerie, which was a branch of the Turkish Armed Force. She was not given any guards by security force despite several applications.

In 1994, she was threatened with death by Mafia due to her report about the relation between politicians and Mafia. After the no-signature documentary report proving the relation was published, she was attacked by Mafia when she rejected to declare her partner’s name. She had to fight with the attacker and successfully took the Smith Wetson gun away in the attempted shooting from the attacker. She couldn’t go home for three months after this incident. She returned home after the Mafia started to fight with each other.

In 1994, she left Nokta weekly with her team when the magazine was bought by a businessman who was known to have close ties with government. She started publish a new weekly magazine called “Ates” with her team, but the publication of the first issue was stopped by the owner because of her reports on a government scandal.

In 1995, she was a “target” in Taraf Weekly, a publication of fundamentalist, because of a report she wrote on peace in the Middle East. Later that year, together with 20 male journalists, she was attacked in the PKK camp in northern Iraq when she was working for Interstar TV channel. In December 1995, her article about the election budget of Prime Minister was terminated, but proved to be the truth three months later.

In 1996, she received warning from RTUK – the official censorship organization because of her interviews regarding Kurdish conflict for a private TV channel.

She also worked for Sabah Daily and Aksiyon Weekly. She wrote two books, and had 14 Turkish National Press Awards.

Ayse Onal is the first IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner from Turkey.

Ayse Onal (center) with fellow 1996 Courage Awardees Saida Ramadan from Sudan (left) and Lucy Sichone from Zambia(right) at the Courage Award Ceremony in 1996.

Highlights