200 Turkish journalists blacklisted from parliament

The number of threats to media freedom in Turkey have surged since the failed coup on 15 July.

The number of threats to media freedom in Turkey have surged since the failed coup on 15 July.

One of the most vital duties of a journalist — in any democracy — is to report on the day-to-day operations of a country’s parliament. Journalism schools devote much time to teaching the deciphering budgets and legal language, and how to report fairly on political divides and debates.

I recalled these studies when I read an email Wednesday morning from an Ankara-based colleague. I smiled bitterly. The message included a link to an article published in the Gazete Duvar, which informed that 200 journalists had been barred from entering the home of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Security controls at the two entrances of the failed-coup-damaged building had been intensified and journalists were checked against a list as they tried to enter.

The reason for the bans? Most of those who were blocked worked for shuttered or seized outlets alleged to be affiliated with the Gülenist movement.

Parliament, though severely damaged by bombing during the night of the coup attempt, is still open. For any professional colleague, these sanctions mean only one thing: journalism is now at the absolute mercy of the authorities who will define its limits and content.

Many pro-government journalists do not think the increasingly severe controls are alarming. “It is democracy that matters,” they argue on the social media. “Only the accomplices of the putschists in the media will be affected, not the rest.”

If only that were true. Reality proves the opposite. Along with the closures of more than 100 media outlets, a wide-scale clampdown on Kurdish and leftist media is underway. Outlets deemed too critical of government policies have come under post-coup pressure.

Late Tuesday, pro-Kurdish IMC TV reported that the official twitter accounts of three major pro-Kurdish news sources — the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem and news agencies DIHA and ANF — were banned. Some Kurdish colleagues interpret the sanctions as part of an upcoming security operation in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır and Şırnak.

What I see is a new pattern: in the past three-to-four days, many Twitter accounts of critical outlets and individual journalists have been silenced. An “agreement” appears to have been reached between Ankara and Twitter, but no explanation has yet been given.

For days now, many people have been kept wondering about the case of Hacer Korucu. Her husband, Bülent Korucu, former chief editor of weekly Aksiyon and daily Yarına Bakış, is sought by police after an arrest order issued on him about “aiding and abetting terror organisation”, among other accusations. She was arrested nine days ago as police had told the family that “she would be kept until the husband shows up”.

The Platform for Independent Journalism provided more insight on Hacer Korucu’s detention and subsequent arrest. The motive? She had taken part in the activities of the schools affiliated with Gülen Movement and attended the Turkish Language Olympiade.

Hacer Korucu’s case, without a doubt, shows how arbitrary law enforcement has become in Turkey. As a result no citizen can feel safe any longer.

“She is a mother of five,” was the outcry of Rebecca Harms, German MEP. “A crime to be married to a journalist?”

How do we now expect an honest Turkish or Kurdish journalist to answer this question? By any measure of decency, the snapshot of Turkey in the post-putsch days leaves little suspicion: emergency rule gives a free reign to authorities who feel empowered to block journalists from covering the epicenter of any democratic activity — parliament — and let relatives of journalists suffer.

Meanwhile, we are told on a daily basis that democracy was saved from catastrophe on that dreadful July evening and it needs to be cherished.

But, like this? How?

A version of this article originally appeared on Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is posted here with the permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.

Yavuz Baydar: Turkey takes wife of journalist hostage

Bülent Korucu

Bülent Korucu, former columnist for Zaman and former editor-in-chief of Aksiyon.

As I’ve been writing for months now, the job that runs the highest risk in Turkey is, without a shred of doubt, journalism.

So you can imagine my sense of bitterness when I woke yesterday to the unanswered cries of despair from a teenage boy trying to save his mother from unlawful imprisonment.

“I am the son of journalist Bülent Korucu,” Tarık Korucu tweeted on 2 August. “Since my father is not found, my mother has been taken hostage for six days now. Please, I beg you, do not stay silent on this unlawful act.”

Hacer Korucu, who is the mother of five children, was taken into police custody on 31 July when the Korucu family flat was raided. The search was part of the crackdown on 42 journalists, many of whom were affiliated with Zaman daily. Bülent was on the list. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Earlier, Tarık tweeted that the police refused to allow his mother to take her one-year-old baby with her. They told his elder brother: “We will narrow the circle around you until your father comes out, and you will be next.”

Tarık’s despair, which was heartwrenching, reached a new low yesterday. He sent out “help us, speak out for us!” messages to a number of parliamentary deputies and journalists like Can Dündar. Only one deputy, Mahmut Tanal from the main opposition, CHP, reacted. Large chunks of the Turkish media are too busy these days attacking their colleagues and outlets in the West. Many Turkish columnists are joining the government chorus which demonises those in the media who are supposed to be Gülen affiliated, while ignoring the Korucu family’s plight in a mood of revenge. 

Only brave, independent news sites like Diken, T24 and the Platform for Independent Journalism that reported the case. The rest maintain a deadly, acrimonious silence.

Yesterday, Korucu’s children were told they could go and visit their mother if they could find a lawyer in the ultra-conservative eastern city of Erzurum. This was impossible. “We can not find a lawyer for my mom,” Tarık tweeted. “Unfortunately, lawyers are done for as the rule of law collapsed over here. There isn’t a lawyer with a conscience in this big city.”

I am left speechless. And we still don’t know the grounds on which Hacer is kept in custody. 

As of Friday, 42 journalists have been detained since the coup attempt. This brings the total number of jailed journalists in Turkey up 77, possibly the highest number of any country in the world.

In addition, we learned yesterday of two Kurdish reporters arrested in Yüksekova, in Hakkari province.

Korucu family’s tragedy is only a small part of an immense drama, leaving me in no doubt that journalism is the riskiest profession in Turkey.

According to European Journalism Observatory: “More than 100 Turkish media outlets have been closed, their assets seized by the government. Critical newspapers including Yarina Bakış, Özgür Düşünce, Meydan and Taraf, as well as the news site Haberdar and pro-Kurdish news agency DİHA have ceased publishing.”

A key aspect in this updated data has escaped the attention of my Western colleagues. An endless stream of seizures and the demonisation of the media mean that hundreds of journalists who do not end up in jail find themselves out in the streets, marked as “toxic” simply because they are abiding by the principle of remaining critical of power structures. Many will never again find a job in parts of the “central” media, which has been invaded by the culture of self-censorship.

Many of us journalists have lost outlets we’ve worked and are left without income. Many are doomed to either starvation or obedience to the powers that be. We have no chance of being employed in decent conditions unless a miracle happens or we receive mercy from our freedom-hating rulers. This is the real tragedy that has swooped over journalism in Turkey.

A version of this article originally appeared on Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is posted here with the permission of the author.

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