Turkey: Losing the rule of law


Award-winning writer, human rights activist and columnist Aslı Erdoğan

“When I understood that I was to be detained by a directive given from the top, my fear vanished,” novelist and journalist Aslı Erdoğan, who has been detained since 16 August, told the daily Cumhuriyet through her lawyer. “At that very moment, I realised that I had committed no crime.”

While her state of mind may have improved, her physical well-being is in jeopardy.  A diabetic, she also suffers from asthama and chronic chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I have not been given my medication in the past five days,” Erdoğan, who is being held in solitary confinement, added on 24 August. “I have a special diet but I can only eat yogurt here. I have not been outside of my cell. They are trying to leave permanent damage on my body. If I did not resist, I could not put up with these conditions.”

An internationally known novelist, columnist and member of the advisory board of the now shuttered pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily Erdoğan was accused membership of a terrorist organisation, as well as spreading terrorist propaganda and incitement to violence.

According to the Platform for Independent Journalism, Erdoğan is one of at least 100 journalists held in Turkish prisons. This number – which will rise further – makes Turkey the top jailer of journalists in the world.

Each day brings new drama. Erdoğan’s case is just one of the many recent examples of the suffering inflicted on Turkey. It is clear that the botched coup on 15 July did not lead to a new dawn, despite the rhetoric on “democracy’s victory”.

Turkey faces the same question it did before the 15 July: What will become of our beloved country? Like the phrase “feast of democracy” – which has been adopted by the pro-AKP media mouthpieces – it has been repeated so often that it habecome empty rhetoric.

Such false cries only serve the ruling AKP’s interests. Even abroad there are increased calls that we should support the government despite the directionless politics in Turkey and  the state of emergency.

In a recent article for Project Syndicate entitled Taking Turkey Seriously, former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote: “The West’s attitude toward Turkey matters. Western diplomats should escalate engagement with Turkey to ensure an outcome that reflects democratic values and is favorable to Western and Turkish interests alike.”

Lale Kemal took Turkey seriously. As one of the country’s top expert journalists on military-civilian relations, Kemal stood up for the truth, barely making a living as no mogul-owned media outlet would publish her honest journalism. She headed the Ankara bureau of independent daily Taraf, now shut down because of the emergency decree. She now sits in jail for the absurd accusation that she “aided and abetted” the Gülen movement, an Islamic religious and social movement led by US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refers to the movement as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETO) and blames it for orchestrating the failed coup.

But actually, Kemal’s only “crime” was to write for the “wrong” newspapers, Taraf and Today’s Zaman.

Şahin Alpay also took Turkey seriously. As a scholar and political analyst he was a shining light in many democratic projects and one of the leading liberal voices in Turkey.

Three weeks ago, he was detained indefinitely following a police raid at his home. His crime? Aiding and abetting terror, instigating the coup and writing for the Zaman and Today’s Zaman. This last point is now reason enough to deny such a prominent intellectual his freedom.

Access to the digital archives of “dangerous” newspapers – Zaman, Taraf, Nokta etc – is now blocked. This is a systematic deleting of their entire institutional memory. All those news stories, op-ed articles and news analysis pieces are now completely gone.

Basın-İş, a Turkish journalists’ union, stated that 2,308 journalists have lost their jobs since 15 July, and most will probably never to be employed again. Unemployment was their reward for taking Turkey seriously.

Erdoğan, Kemal and Alpay, like many journalists, academics and artists who care for their country, are scapegoats for the erratic policies of those in power.

Even businessmen have fallen victim to the massive witch hunt against “FETO”. Vast amounts of assets belonging to those accused of being Gülen sympathisers have been seized and expropriated by the state. Not long ago these businessmen were hailed as “Anatolian Tigers”, who opened the Turkish market to globalisation.

The seizures will probably draw complaints at the European Court level. They are sadly reminiscent of the expropriations at the end of the Ottoman Empire, which had targeted mainly Christian-owned assets.

What all of these cases have in common isn’t the acrimony that pollute daily politics in Turkey.  It is the total sense of loss for the rule of law, made worse by post-coup developments.

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: Six more journalists jailed in Turkey

Turkish journalist Lale Kemal

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.

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

Yavuz Baydar: Turkey’s rounding up reporters, editors and columnists

Şahin Alpay

Şahin Alpay is a columnist for multiple newspapers, including Yarina Bakis, which was forced to suspend its print edition after the coup.

It was 6am when Professor Şahin Alpay and his wife heard the knock at the door. It was the police. They had come to take him into custody.

The 72-year-old journalist’s flat was searched for two hours. As he was led away, Alpay said: “I do not know why I am being taken away. I am not in a position to say anything.”

Alpay was only one of 47 journalists who were subject to arrest under warrants issued on Wednesday. The list included the names of columnists, editors and reporters who formerly had been employed in Zaman daily, which was seized by the security forces last March. It and its journalists now stand accused of being the so-called media leg of Fethullah Gülen terror organisation.

Alpay has been one of the most consistent and powerful socially liberal voices in Turkey for decades. He is very well known in European political circles, particularly in Sweden where he had completed his doctorate. He is respected within Germany’s social democratic, liberal and green movements. For years, he had been part of democracy projects conducted by the Ebert and Naumann foundations. Until very recently he had taught political science at Bahçeşehir University and continued to write columns in multiple newspapers.

The list also includes names such as Hilmi Yavuz, an 80-year-old poet, philosopher and literary critic, who is also well known abroad. Other names on the list wereP rofessor İhsan Dağı, a brilliant liberal scholar, and theologue Ali Bulaç.

Then there are journalists: Lale Kemal, an outstanding analyst of defence issues for Jane’s Defence Weekly; Nuriye Akman, who is well known for her long interviews; Bülent Keneş, former editor-in-chief of  Today’s Zaman, which is now controlled by trustees appointed by the government. The list goes on and on.

On Monday, a list of arrest warrants issued against 42 journalists. On Wednesday there were 47 more names. With this second wave of arrests, there seems no doubt that the clampdown on critical and independent journalism will continue in stages. The first wave targeted reporters regardless of the publications they were affiliated with. The second wave was aimed at Zaman. The message shared on social media: there is more to come.

Turkey’s situation cannot be any more serious. The aftermath of the completely unacceptable and bloody coup is marked by an incomprehensible priority to target dissenting intellectuals. This is reminiscent of the pattern the generals set down after the military coup in 1980. The targets were communists then, now it’s Gülenists that are the subject of the massive witch hunt.

The accusation directed at Nazlı Ilıcak, a 71-year-old veteran journalist on the centre right-liberal flank, is rather telling. The lawyers say that she is to be charged with “establishing the media leg of FETO terror organisation”, meaning a lifetime imprisonment if the charge sticks.

This was the overall picture as of the past 24 hours. It is, then, completely appropriate that, now that the witch hunt is openly targeting liberals on the right and left in Turkey, the rules of the emergency rule paves the way for a counter-putsch or, as the veteran journalist, Hasan Cemal, a close friend of Alpay and Ilıcak, labelled as “civilian coup”.

Indeed, Wednesday morning Human Rights Watch was swift in issuing an SOS warning to the world about the emergency rule, which now allows the authorities to keep people in custody up to 30 days.

“It is an unvarnished move for an arbitrary, mass, and permanent purge of the civil service, prosecutors, and judges, and to close down private institutions and associations without evidence, justification, or due process,” HRW said.

“The wording of the decree is vague and open-ended, permitting the firing of any public official conveniently alleged to be ‘in contact’ with members of ‘terrorist organizations’, but with no need for an investigation to offer any evidence in support of it,” Emma Sinclair-Webb said. “The decree can be used to target any opponent – perceived or real – beyond those in the Gülen movement.”

This is the list of 47 journalists targeted for arrest:

Osman Nuri Öztürk, Ali Akbulut, Bülent Keneş, Mehmet Kamış, Hüseyin Döğme, Süleyman Sargın, Veysel Ayhan, Şeref Yılmaz, Mehmet Akif Afşar, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Alaattin Güner, Faruk Kardıç, Metin Tamer Gökçeoğlu, Faruk Akkan, Mümtaz’er Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Sevgi Akarçeşme, Ali Ünal, Mustafa Ünal, Zeki Önal, Hilmi Yavuz, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu (Lale Kemal), Ali Bulaç, Bülent Korucu, İhsan Duran Dağı, Nuriye Ural (Akman), Hamit Çiçek, Adil Gülçek, Hamit Bilici, Şenol Kahraman, Melih Kılıç, Nevzat Güner, Mehmet Özdemir, Fevzi Yazıcı, Sedat Yetişkin, Oktay Vızvız, Abdullah Katırcıoğlu, Behçet Akyar, Murat Avcıoğlu, Yüksel Durgut, Zafer Özsoy, Cuma Kaya, Hakan Taşdelen, Osman Nuri Arslan, Ömer Karakaş.

A version of this article was originally posted to Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is published here with 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.