Turkey’s journalists have sacrificed their freedom in the pursuit of truth

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Journalists Facing Trial in Turkey

Recent developments in Turkey, once seen as a role model for the Muslim world, have shown that concepts such as the rule of law and right to free speech are no longer welcome by the Erdogan government.

With 156 journalists behind bars as of 26 February 2018 and the closing down of more than 150 media outlets by virtue of the state’s of emergency decrees, Turkey is the global leader in suppressing the media. The irony is that Erdogan was once a victim of an earlier oppressive regime in the late 1990s, having been dismissed as mayor of Istanbul, banned from political office and put in prison for three months for inciting religious hatred after he recited part of a poem by the Turkish nationalist Ziya Gokalp at a political rally.

The destruction of the rule of law in Turkey has been in the making since the anti-government Gezi Park protests and corruption probes of 2013. However, the government has made its intentions on the right to free speech crystal clear in the aftermath of the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. Many journalists and writers have been imprisoned over accusations as absurd as spreading subliminal messages to promote the coup.

Some of them — like Die Welt journalist Deniz Yucel — have languished in detention without charge for a year. Yucel was used as a bargaining chip against Germany and was only freed after chancellor Angela Merkel put pressure on the Turkish government. Immediately after he was let out of detention he published a video message in which he said: “I still don’t know why I was arrested and why I have been released.”

Ahmet Sik, another well-known journalist, was imprisoned because of his thorough investigations into the dark sides of the coup attempt. Can Dundar was arrested for publishing about Turkish intelligence’s illegal arms transfers to Syria. He was kept in prison for several months and eventually released on a constitutional court decision in February 2016. He fled the country and currently lives in Germany. Veteran journalists Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, on the other hand, were not so lucky. They had been granted freedom by the constitutional court but a local court refused to implement their release. Recently, the Altan brothers, Mehmet and Ahmed, and another senior journalist, Nazli Ilicak, have been brutally sentenced to aggravated life prison sentences. Examples of the obscene unlawful imprisonment of journalists can go on and on.

The heart of the issue is that Turkish journalists do excellent work. They go to extraordinary efforts to make sure the public is informed about corruption, illegal arms transfers, extrajudicial killings of Kurds and minorities, shady affairs of the ruling party with the judiciary and unanswered questions about the coup attempt. The government doesn’t want to see these issues make headlines, and for defying it many journalists have sacrificed their freedom.

Behind the thin veneer of Turley’s judicial system is the political machine manufacturing countless crimes. After 500 days pretrial detention, Ahmet Turan Alkan, an intellectual and a respected writer, pointed that out by telling a judge: “Your honour, I know you can’t release me because if you decide to do so you will be jailed.”

Turkey’s journalists are faced with a unique problem: if they continue to lay bare the truth for all to see they risk exile or prison. In a normal country, journalists performing at the height of their abilities would be encouraged or rewarded, perhaps not by their governments but by the society as a whole. But not so in Turkey, where the government mouthpieces and politically-aligned media outlets spout the latest propaganda to manipulate Turks. Unfortunately, the majority of people actually believe that most of the arrested journalists are criminals or terror supporters.

This collective hostility to freedom of expression makes Turkey one of the biggest violators of press freedom in the 42 European-area countries Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project monitors; one of the lowest ranking countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index; and deemed “not free” by Freedom House’s evaluation.

It’s not just journalists. Academics, rights defenders, philanthropists and lawyers also face punishment for carrying out their professional responsibilities on behalf of the public. Disclosing the unlawful practices of those in power is all it takes for an individual to find themselves on the wrong side of the bars. As with Alpay and Altan, a court had ordered Taner Kilic, the chairman of Amnesty Turkey, to be released from detention, but the prosecutor put him back in prison. Kilic and his colleagues are being targeted in retribution for Amnesty International’s work to make the world aware of the inhumane conditions in Turkey’s post-coup attempt era.

The government’s intolerance toward dissenting voices can also be seen in its treatment of university professors, students and others who signed an Academics for Peace petition, which called for an end to violence in the Kurdish region of the country. Hundreds of distinguished academics have found themselves summoned to courtrooms. For taking a stand about the ongoing tragedy in Kurdish cities, the majority of these academics are dehumanised and defamed. They have not only become enemies of the state but enemies of all Turks.

Yes, the government has terrorised ordinary people with the narrative of the “world against great Turkey” and urged them to stand against outspoken figures who are the “spies, traitors and enemies”.

What do the EU and other international organisations do? Mostly expressing their “concern” in different formats such as “great”, “deep” or “serious”. Even the European Court of the Human Rights has not issued a single verdict against Turkey’s post-coup purge which has seen the country become the world’s largest jailer of journalists.

On the same day the Altan brothers were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison, Tjorbon Jaglan, the secretary general of the Council of Europe was on a two-day visit in Turkey.  He didn’t utter a single word about their situation. What else could better fit the definition of the “banality of evil” conceptualised by Hannah Arendt?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1519832159496-f7b69135-ce98-10″ taxonomies=”8607″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Cumhuriyet journalists: Imprisoned for changing editorial policy


People gather in support of the Cumhuriyet defendants as the trial got underway.

People gather in support of the Cumhuriyet defendants as the trial got underway.

Executives and columnists of Turkey’s critical Cumhuriyet daily go on trial this week, beginning Monday 24 July. The indictment seeks prison sentences for the defendants varying between 7.5 to 43 years. The charges for those on the board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, which oversees the newspaper, include “abuse of power in office,” but all are accused of “supporting terrorist organisations” mainly through changes that have occurred in the paper’s editorial policy following the election of a new board to the foundation in 2013.

The prosecution’s claims are supported by views of several media experts — most of whom are former executives or employees terminated from various positions, according to Aydın Engin, a Cumhuriyet columnist who is also a defendant in the case although he was released pending trial due to his advanced age.

As Engin says “Cumhuriyet changed its editorial policy: this is the essence of the indictment.”

Indeed, the 435-page long document laments, page after page, that Cumhuriyet ditched its traditional, Kemalist, unyieldingly secularist and statist editorial policy and became a more open-minded newspaper.

The prosecutor states that by altering its editorial stance, the newspaper became a supporter of the so-called Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ/PYD) — the name Turkish authorities give to the Fethullah Gülen network, which they say was behind last year’s coup attempt –, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK/KCK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C); three organizations with unrelated if not completely opposing worldviews.

“A newspaper changing its editorial policy cannot possibly be the subject of an indictment,” Engin says.

But did Cumhuriyet really change its editorial policy to legitimise the actions of FETÖ/PDY; PKK/KCK and DHKP/C as the prosecutor claims? “Every newspaper makes editorial policy changes as life unfolds. Cumhuriyet also did this. The paper caught up with the general tendencies in society such as increasing demand for freedoms, human rights and a stronger civil society.”

Engin says many of the witnesses who have testified against the Cumhuriyet journalists have been discredited as media professionals. “When I told the prosecutor that I will not respond to claims by people who have no reputation as journalists, he showed me a post by Professor Halil Berktay, who tweeted that ‘Cumhruiyet has become FETÖ’s media outlet.’ The prosecutor said, ‘This from a professor. Who are you to deny its validity?’

Engin: old and tired

Will any of the Cumhuriyet journalists be released at the end of this week? “I don’t even want to being to make any assumptions. This is not a legal trial; it is entirely political,” Engin replies, adding: “I strongly need them, personally, because I am 76 and tired,” says the energetic-looking journalist, who, as he speaks, is interrupted by someone asking him to sign a financial document. “See, I don’t even know what I just signed, I don’t know anything about these things.”

According to Engin, because those imprisoned are the key people to the newspaper’s operations, Cumhuriyet is now “half-paralyzed.”

But really, who are those in prison?

“Our brightest colleagues are in the can. Akın Atalay, is our CEO and I am a first-hand witness of how he has managed to keep the newspaper on its feet.  Murat Sabuncu, he is perhaps one of the two or three finest journalists I know who can smell the news. He is publicly unheard of but Önder Çelik: he has been with Cumhuriyet for 35 years, he is the finest expert at things such as analyzing circulation reports, maintaining relations with printing houses; following paper prices..”

“I really need them to get out, but I don’t want to be dreaming.”[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Turkey” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:30|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fmappingmediafreedom.org%2F|||”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Turkey and 41 other European area nations.

As of 24/07/2017, there were 496 verified reports of media freedom violations associated with Turkey in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”94623″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” link=”https://mappingmediafreedom.org/#/”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]The  journalists on trial for the first time on 24 – 28 July:

Akın Atalay (Cumhuriyet Foundation Executive President; imprisoned since Nov. 12, 2016): Facing 11 to 43 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and “abusing trust”

Atalay graduated from İstanbul University Law School in 1985. He has acted as the founding member of a number of civil society organisations and his academic studies on press freedom and the law have appeared in a large number of academic journals and newspapers. Since 1993, he has represented Cumhuriyet columnists and reporters as legal counsel. Currently, he is the newspaper’s executive president.

Bülent Utku (Cumhuriyet Foundation Board Member, attorney representing Cumhuriyet; imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and “abusing trust”

Utku has worked as an attorney for 33 years. Since 1993, he has worked as a lawyer for Cumhuriyet columnists and journalists. He is also a member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Murat Sabuncu (editor-in-chief, imprisoned since Nov. 5). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” [Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 314/2]

Sabuncu has been a journalist for 20 years. He started working at Cumhuriyet in 2014 as the newsroom coordinator. In July 2016, he took the helm as editor-in-chief.

Kadri Gürsel (publications advisor, columnist, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2015). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

A journalist of 28 years, Gürsel started writing columns in Cumhuriyet in May 2016. He assumed the position of publications advisor for the newspaper in September 2016.

Güray Öz (board member, news ombudsman, columnist, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2015). Facing 8.5 to 22 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and a single count of “abuse of power in office”

Öz has been a journalist for 21 years. He has worked at Cumhuriyet since 2006. He is a columnist for the newspaper and has been its ombudsman since 2013. Öz is also on the board of directors of the Cumhuriyet Foundation.

Önder Çelik (board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 11.5 to 43 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”  and four counts of “abuse of power in office”

Önder Çelik has been a newspaper administrator for 35 years. He has worked as the print coordinator for the newspaper between 1981 – 1998. He returned to the same position in 2002 after a hiatus. He has been an executive board member since 2014 as well as a board member of the foundation.

Turhan Günay (editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet’s book supplement, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 8.5 to 22 years for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and a single count of “abuse of power in office”

A journalist for 48 years, Günay has been with Cumhuriyet since 1987. For the past 25 years, he has worked as the chief editor for Cumhuriyet’s literary supplement, the country’s longest running weekly publication on books. The indictment insists he is a board member of the foundation; although he isn’t; a fact he reiterated in his testimony to the prosecutor.

Musa Kart

Musa Kart

Musa Kart (Cartoonist, board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016) Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and “abusing trust”

Musa Kart, one of Turkey’s most renowned cartoonists, has been drawing political cartoons for 33 years. He has been a Cumhuriyet journalist since 1985. For the past six years, Kart has drawn the front-page cartoons for Cumhuriyet.

Hakan Karasinir (board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and two counts of “abuse of power in office”

Hakan Karasinir has been a journalist for 34 years. He has been with Cumhuriyet for 34 years. In the past he has held various editorial positions, including serving as the newspaper’s managing editor between 1994 and 2014. Since 2014, he has also written columns in the newspaper.

Mustafa Kemal Güngör (attorney, board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”; two counts of “abuse of power in office”

Mustafa Kemal Güngör has been a lawyer for 31 years. He has defended Cumhuriyet journalists and columnists in court since 2013.

Can Dundar

Can Dundar

Can Dündar (former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, currently resides abroad). Facing 7.5 to 15 years for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

Perhaps the most internationally famous of all Cumhuriyet defendants, Can Dündar was the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet until August 2016. He was arrested in November 2015 after Cumhuriyet published footage suggesting that the Turkish government sent weapons to armed jihadi groups in Syria. He was released in February 2016, a few months after which he moved to Germany where he currently resides.

Orhan Erinç (Cumhuriyet Foundation Board President, columnist). Facing 11.5 to 43 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member” ; four counts of “abuse of power in office”

Veteran journalist Orhan Erinç, who worked for Cumhuriyet as a young reporter, returned to the newspaper in 1993 as its publications advisor. For nearly half a decade, Erinç also held the position of vice president at Turkish Journalists’ Association. He is also a columnist for Cumhuriyet.

Aydın Engin (columnist, released under judicial control measures). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member”

Cumhuriyet columnist Aydın Engin has been a journalist since 1969. He has participated in the founding process for many news outlets, including Turkey’s Birgün daily. He worked as a columnist and reporter for Cumhuriyet between 1992 and 2002. He returned to the newspaper in 2015.

Hikmet Çetinkaya (columnist, board member, released under judicial control). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”; two counts of “abuse of power in office”

Çetinkaya has been with Cumhuriyet for three decades. In the past, the columnist worked as the İzmir Bureau Chief of the newspaper. He was also tried in 2015 along with Cumhuriyet columnist Ceyda Karan for reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in his column.

Ahmet Şık (Correspondent, imprisoned since Dec. 30, 2016). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

No stranger to Turkish prisons, Ahmet Şık worked as a reporter for Cumhuriyret, Evrensel, Yeni Yüzyıl, Nokta and Reuters between 1991 and 2007. He remained in prison for a year in 2011 in an investigation about a shady gang called Ergenekon, believed to be nested within Turkey’s state hierarchy. He is known as one of the most vocal critics of the Fethullah Gülen network.

İlhan Tanır (former Washington correspondent, resides abroad). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

İlhan Tanır previously reported from Washington for Cumhuriyet. His reports and analyses have appeared in many national and international publications. He currently resides in the United States.

Bülent Yener (Finance Manager). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member”

A former financial affairs manager with Cumhuriyet, Bülent Yener was released after one day in custody.

Günseli Özaltay (Accounting Manager). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member”

Günseli Özaltay, the newspaper’s accounting manager, was released after one day in custody.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1500894514864-6349d62e-4ed7-3″ taxonomies=”8607″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Padraig Reidy: The paranoid style in Turkish politics

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Philip Janek / Demotix)

What’s wrong with Turkey? Or, more to the point what is wrong with Turkey’s president that makes him so determined to fight, like a two a.m. drunk vowing to take on all comers?

In the past week alone, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies have launched attacks on his former ally Fethullah Gülen and his followers, novelists Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak, and even supporters of Istanbul soccer club Besiktas. It would be foolish to attempt to rank these attacks in terms of importance or urgency, but the attack on the Gülenites is the most interesting.

The Gülen movement was almost unknown to anyone outside Turkey and the Turkish diaspora until 2008, when Fethullah Gülen topped an online poll run jointly by Prospect and Foreign Policy magazines. The poll was almost certainly hijacked by members of the movement, which its leader modestly claims doesn’t really exist (“[S]ome people may regard my views well and show respect to me, and I hope they have not deceived themselves in doing so,” Gülen conceded in an interview with Foreign Policy. “Some people think that I am a leader of a movement. Some think that there is a central organization responsible for all the institutions they wrongly think affiliated with me. They ignore the zeal of many to serve humanity and to gain God’s good pleasure in doing so.”)

The movement, known to some as “Hizmet”, is seen as bearing great power in Turkey. In a country well used to conspiracy theories about secret organisations — such as the perceived ultra-nationalist, ultra-secular Ergenekon — it is unsurprising that the Gülenists attract suspicion. Their cultishness does little to allay that sentiment.

Among the many weapons at the disposal of the movement are its newspapers, the Turkish Zaman and English-language Today’s Zaman. It was journalists from Zaman, among others perceived as Gülenites, who were arrested over the weekend, as reported by Index.

The move by Erdoğan against Gülenists is widely seen as part of Erdoğan’s defence against allegations of corruption within his party — allegations he believes are led by Gülenists within the police and other agencies.

With their journalists arrested, the Gülenists now find themselves facing the kind of censorship they themselves espoused not so long ago.

In 2011, journalist Ahmet Sik was working on a book called Army of the Imam, which was sought to expose the Gülenists’ connections with the police. The manuscript was seized by authorities. When Andrew Finkel, then a columnist with Today’s Zaman (and occasional Index contributor), submitted an article suggesting that the Gülen movement should not support such censorship, he was sacked by the paper. (The column subsequently appeared in rival English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News)

It’s tempting amid all this to wish for a plague on all their houses. But as one Turkey watcher pointed out to me, it’s inevitable that some innocents will get caught in the crossfire between the former allies in Erdoğan’s Islamist AK party and the Gülen movement.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the paranoid style of Turkish politics, pro-Erdoğan newspaper Takvim identified an external enemy in the shape of an “international literature lobby”.

The agents of that lobby, which is clearly anti-Turkish rather than pro-free speech, were identified as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak. It is, in its own way, true that Shafak and Pamuk are part of the international literature lobby: London-based Shafak can often be seen at English PEN events, and Pamuk has long been identified as a literary and free speech hero around the world. But it is an enormous stretch to imagine that the novelists of the world are gathering in smoke-filled rooms plotting the overthrow of the Turkish state, rather than just hoping that Turkish people should be allowed write and read books in peace. Takvim went as far as to imagine that the authors were paid agents of the “literature lobby”, which is to make the terrible mistake of imagining there’s money in free speech. No matter: paranoia excels at inventing its own truths.

Amidst all this, less glamorous than Pamuk and Shafak, less powerful than Gülen and Erdoğan, fans of Besiktas football club too face persecution. The “Çarşı” group are claimed to have attempted a coup against the government after playing a prominent role in the Gezi park protests. Supporters of the tough working class Istanbul club, known as the Black Eagles, have a reputation for anti-authoritarianism and political activism. According to Euronews’ Bora Bayraktar: “While the court’s verdict is uncertain, what is known is that the Çarşı fans – often proud to be ahead of their rivals – have become the first football supporters’ group to be accused of an attempted coup.”

A source in Istanbul tells Index that when asked how he answered to the charge of fomenting a coup, one accused supporter replied: “If we’re that strong we would make Beşiktaş the champions!”, a prospect as unlikely for the underdog club as a dull but functioning liberal democracy seems for Turkey.

This article was posted on 18 December 2014 at indexoncensorship.org