It was a long Saturday night for all of us, at home and abroad, monitoring the worrisome developments around media freedom in Turkey. As if to confirm our fears, the night ended with the detention of six more journalists.
Defence lawyers expected the cases to be handled first thing Monday 1 August. But in a hasty move, journalists who wrote for the opinion section of Zaman — which stands at the epicentre of accusations of being part of the so-called “media leg of FETO terror organisation” — were taken to the Istanbul courthouse. After a long process, all were sent to jail.
The ruling, written under the extraordinary circumstances of emergency rule, reads like a severe restriction of the free word in particular and journalism in general.
The motivation for detention went, in a nutshell, that the six “prevented the investigation on the armed structure in their columns and via social media, and continued to write their columns even after the chief editor of Zaman daily, Ekrem Dumanlı, had fled the country”. Sigh.
There was no other mention than their expressed views — without going into any specifics in their content — and it was seen as sufficient by the judge to rule for jailing. Theirs will add to the pile of complaints from Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights.
It was the case of Şahin Alpay in particular which raised concerns among his colleagues in media and academia. One of the top liberal voices in Turkey, and known with respect among others in German social democrat, liberal and green political circles, Alpay is utterly frail with several health issues. The hopes of a release — albeit conditional — were high but crashed.
Yesterday, his family tried to contact him in prison, uncertain of any success.
All the six are from Turkish media’s liberal end of the spectrum. Among them are two female reporters that require attention. Lale Kemal, who was a commentator with Zaman, is an expert journalist on defence issues, with a long career. Her CV begins with Anatolian Agency, going on with Cumhuriyet daily, Hürriyet Daily News, Taraf and Today’s Zaman. She has been a stringer for Jane’s Defence Weekly for a long time.
The other, Nuriye Akman, has been a professional for 25 years. She worked with “mainstream” dailies in the 1990s and marked her reputation with long, Oriana Fallaci-style interviews both in print and TV. She is also the author of three novels.
Both women have been known to earn their keep only through journalism, like the others in this group of detainees.
Ali Bulaç, with a background as a theologue, is an independent voice within the conservative segments, often with disagreements and polemics with some others in the group. Ahmet Turan Alkan is regarded as a senior voice as part of the centre-right liberal flank in Turkey, popular for his ironic style. And Mustafa Ünal, who was Ankara Bureau Chief of Zaman, was for long active in Ankara, covering major political issues with a minimalist, simple writing style.
According to the regular monitoring done in daily basis by Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), these latest detentions mean that since the bloody coup attempt on July 15, 29 journalists are detained. In a total, there are now 62 journalists in jail in Turkey.
During the long, dark hours on Sunday, there was another message that added to the fears. A colleague, Ali Aslan, based in Washington DC, tweeted that the police had detained the wife of a journalist Bülent Korucu, former editor in chief of the weekly news magazine Aksiyon, now under arrest warrant but on the run. The police, Aslan claimed, threatened to keep her locked until her husband surrenders. Korucu’s son also confirmed this claim.
Dark Sunday indeed.
What fuels the concerns is that there is so far no assurance from the government about the respect for media freedom and whether or not the witch hunt will end anytime soon.
A version of this article originally appeared at Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is posted here with the permission of the author.