[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”101086″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Shortly after Turkish police in riot gear raided the headquarters of Zaman Media Group on 4 March 2016, SevgiAkarçeşme saw that she had just two choices.
Akarçeşme, the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, the country’s largest English-language daily, could become a pro-government journalist and spend her days publishing articles lauding the increasingly authoritarian regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Or she could flee the country and try to speak out in exile. Less than 48 hours later, Akarcesme was boarding a plane for Brussels to escape impending imprisonment.
“I didn’t want to turn into a pro-government journalist and lost my integrity,” she says in an interview with Global Journalist. “I lost everything else, but not my integrity.”
The government seizure of Zaman Group, a media company sympathetic to the Hizmet opposition movement led by exiled cleric FetullahGülen, presaged a far-reaching crackdown on media, civil society and others following a failed coup against Erdogan two months later. In all of 2016, Turkey detained more than 140 journalists and hundreds more lost their jobs, according to a US State Department human rights report. Nearly 4,000 people were indicted for insulting the president, the prime minister or state institutions. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey had 73 journalists in prison in December 2017 – the most of any country in the world.
Indeed even as Akarcesme was leaving the country, Erdogan’s administration had already transformed the Turkish edition of Zaman into a pro-government mouthpiece.
Yet even before the storming of Zaman’s offices, Akarçeşme had faced legal pressure from the government. In early 2015, she was put on trial for “insulting” then-prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in a tweet in which she accused Davutoğlu of covering up a corruption scandal involving family members of senior officials.
But it wasn’t until the closure of Zaman in 2016 that it became clear that Erdogan’s government would no longer tolerate independent media. Even after Akarçeşme left for Belgium, the Turkish government continued to take punitive measures against her, raiding her apartment in Istanbul and cancelling her passport. Akarçeşme, now 39, spent more than a year in Belgium before coming to the US in May 2017.
Now living in the US, where she works as a freelance journalist and is looking for a full-time job, she spoke with Global Journalist’s Lily Cusack about her exile.
Global Journalist: How did you end up leaving Turkey?
Akarçeşme: As you can imagine, it’s a long story because Turkey did not become a dictatorship overnight. So like everything else, it was a process. It was a fast process, but still a process.
It was March 6, 2016 [when] I left Istanbul suddenly. Two days before my departure, the government led by Erdogan seized our newspaper over charges, of course ridiculous charges, of terrorism and terrorist support. And because I was the leading executive of the English daily, Today’s Zaman, I knew that it was a matter of time for them to persecute me as well.
Four months before that, in December 2015, I received a suspended prison [sentence] because of my tweets. Actually, not even my own tweets. It was some comments left under my tweet. The prime minister at the time sued me, and I received suspended imprisonment.
So there was already ongoing oppression, and I knew that Turkey has never had a proud record of freedom in terms of journalism. But it was getting worse and worse, and the government primarily targeted our media group. It was almost evident that it would be a matter of time.
It was a difficult decision to leave your country with only two bags…suddenly, without notifying anyone because you might be stopped at the border. So many people were banned from travelling abroad. So I was nervous about being banned from travelling abroad, but fortunately, I was able to leave. In retrospect, I realise it was the best decision of my life because I would be imprisoned right now, like my colleagues.
GJ: Did you personally receive threats?
Akarçeşme: Over social media, yes I did, just like my colleagues I quit tweeting in Turkish, I only tweet in English from time to time. Any critic could tell you that an army of trolls target and harass you.
GJ: How did you reach the conclusion that you had to leave?
Akarçeşme: It was a very sudden decision. In the two days from the police raid [March 4, 2016] until I left, I only talked to [AbdulhamitBilici], editor-in-chief of the larger media group. He was also dismissed, and he was also at risk. But he did not want to leave immediately. He thought that he needed to stay to support junior level people. But I just thought that in the case of an arrest, I could not stand the conditions of prison in Turkey. I told myself that I had to leave.
So I was very nervous at the airport because I didn’t know whether my passport was cancelled. It was a memorable moment. I just remember walking across customs and passport check and feeling extremely nervous. It was funny because I was only a journalist. I knew that I did nothing wrong, but I knew that wasn’t enough to save me from a possible persecution or prevent my departure. I was relieved [when] we landed in Brussels.
In July, when I left Belgium and was on may to the US, I was taken off the plane because I was told that my passport was not valid. So it actually happened, but fortunately it happened after I left Turkey.
GJ: How did it feel having to leave Turkey so suddenly?
Akarçeşme: It was a terribly uneasy feeling. You kind of become alienated from your own country. The day I decided to leave, I already felt that Turkey was a hopeless case and there was no future for me in Turkey.
Over the last two years, I have been extremely disillusioned [about] my home country and my home society because [people] have been predominantly remaining silent in the face of oppression. They have even been supporting Erdogan.
So I feel that it’s not home anymore, even though I still have loved ones [there]. My heart and mind are still with all these prisoners, especially purge victims, tens of thousands of people, not only journalists, people from all walks of life.
GJ: Do you have any hope of returning?
Akarçeşme: I have no hope. It will not improve. The government has been seizing more and more media outlets every day. There is no free media… except a couple of web-based TV [channels] and newspapers from exile, there’s nothing mainstream left for independent journalism. The whole narrative is being controlled by the government. So unfortunately I’m very pessimistic. I see no way out in the short-run.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook). We’ll send you our weekly newsletter, our monthly events update and periodic updates about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share, sell or transfer your personal information to anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column][three_column_post title=”Global Journalist / Project Exile” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”22142″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”97954″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]In hindsight, there were many clues that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was making preparations to eliminate Turkey’s independent media even before it launched a massive crackdown in July 2016. But perhaps the biggest tip-off was the March 2016 police raid and seizure of Zaman, Turkey’s largest daily newspaper.
At the time, Abdullah Bozkurt was bureau chief in the capital Ankara for the paper’s English-language edition, Today’s Zaman. On March 4 of that year, Bozkurt found himself struggling to put out the newspaper’s final edition – even as he watched on live television as police in riot gear fired tear gas and water cannons on protesters and stormed Zaman’s headquarters 220 miles (350 km) to the west in Istanbul.
Shortly before court-appointed trustees seized control of the newspaper’s computer system, Bozkurt wrote the headline for the last cover of Today’s Zaman. “Shameful Day for Free Press in Turkey,” it read. “Zaman Media Group Seized.”
Zaman had been in Erdogan’s crosshairs for some time for its sympathies with the Gülen movement, an opposition group affiliated with a U.S.-based Islamic cleric that Erdogan has branded a “terrorist” organization. It had particularly angered the government for its aggressive coverage of a 2013 corruption investigation that led to the arrests of three sons of ministers in then-prime minister Erdogan’s government, Bozkurt says.
“Initially, they started calling in public rallies [for people] not to purchase our newspaper,” says Bozkurt, in an interview with Global Journalist. “Amazingly, at the time our circulation went up because we were one of the few media outlets in Turkey that were still covering the corruption investigation…later they started putting pressure on advertisers. That didn’t work out either because our circulation was quite high.”
After Zaman’s closure, Bozkurt briefly opened his own news agency. A few weeks later, on July 15, 2016, a faction of the military attempted to overthrow Erdogan. The coup was put down in a matter of hours. But in its aftermath, Erdogan unleashed a nationwide purge.
Over 100,000 government workers were fired and 47,000 people were jailed on suspicion of terrorism, according to a tally by Human Rights Watch. An additional 150 journalists and media workers were also jailed, giving Turkey the highest number of jailed journalists in the world. Many others fled the country.
Bozkurt was among those who chose to flee rather than face arrest. Ten days after the failed coup, he left for Sweden. The day after he left, the offices of his fledgling news agency were raided by police. Police later searched the home of Bozkurt’s 79-year-old mother and detained her for a day. Bozkurt’s wife and three children later followed him.
In Sweden, Bozkurt received threats via social media and a Wild West-style ‘wanted photo’ of him was published by pro-Erdogan newspapers and the state-run news agency. The government has brought anti-state charges against 30 of his former Zaman colleagues, seeking as much as three life sentences in jail.
Bozkurt, 47, now writes regular columns for the news site Turkishminute.com and works at the Stockholm Center for Freedom, a rights group focused on Turkey. He spoke with Global Journalist’s Denitsa Tsekova about his last weeks in Turkey and his exile. Below, an edited version of their interview:
Bozkurt: I was based in the capital, Ankara, but our newspaper’s headquarters was in Istanbul. The storming of our newspaper happened in Istanbul, we were watching on TV. We were on the phone talking to our colleagues in Istanbul, trying to find what’s going on, what we can do. The police were coming into our Istanbul’s newsrooms, ransacking the place, and shutting the internet service. It was up to me and my colleagues in the Ankara office to write the stories. We were actually printing the last edition of Zaman from Ankara. I was the one who drew the headline in the English edition and we managed to get out the last free edition. In the Turkish edition, we managed to finish and print the first one, but the second and the third edition couldn’t make it to the printing place. It was interrupted by the police and the government caretakers who took over the company.
GJ: There were protests after the closure of Zaman. What happened?
Bozkurt: It was on the day when the takeover judgment by the court was publicized. We didn’t call our readers to come and protest.
We knew it might be very dangerous because the government uses very harsh measures often rubber bullets, pepper spray and pressurized water against peaceful protesters. We didn’t want to put them on the risk.
Around 400 people showed up and they were beaten and targeted brutally by the police who stormed the building.
GJ: What was the last article you wrote for Today’s Zaman?
Bozkurt: It was about prisons. When I wrote that article I didn’t know the government was taking over the company, it was written a day before.
I talked to many people in the government and some from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Something was very, very off because the government planned to build a lot of prisons in Turkey under the disguise of a modernization plan.
However, when you look at the numbers, it didn’t really match. We didn’t need that many new prisons in Turkey, but the government was making a projection that the prison population would increase.
When the European officials asked the justice ministry on what basis were they making this projection, they did not have a response.
In hindsight, I could understand it was because they were preparing a new mass prosecution in Turkey and they needed more prisons to put these people away. Even the prisons we have now are not enough; people are living in very crowded cells.After the coup, the government even granted amnesty for some 40,000 convicted felons… just to make space for the political prisoners and journalists.
GJ: How did you decide to leave?
Bozkurt: I actually hung around for a while after the failed coup, because I thought eventually things will settle down, and I wasn’t planning to move out of Turkey at all.
[Ten days] after the coup, the government issued an arrest warrant against 42 journalists on a single day. I realized this is going to get worse, and I said it’s time for me to move out of Turkey.
It was a rash decision, I didn’t even know to which country I would go, so I had to go to Germany first and then to Sweden.
My mother was getting old, she has some health issues and I wanted to be there for her. But it wasn’t up to me. Sweden was a stopover for me, I wasn’t planning on staying permanently.
The day after I left Turkey, the police raided my office in Ankara, so it was the right decision. If I was there I would have been detained and dragged to jail.
GJ: Were you getting threats?
Bozkurt: I was getting threats all the time. If you are a critical and independent journalist, you will get them. That’s the price you pay for it. Sometimes you try to be vigilant, you try to be careful and you just ignore that kind of threats or pressure from the government or pro-government circles.
But after the massive crackdown after the coup attempt, I thought it’s no longer safe for me. I moved out alone, I didn’t even take my family, because I thought they will stay in Turkey and I can hang around abroad and then come back to Turkey. That was my plan.
After a while, the Turkish government started going after the family members of the journalists. Bülent Korucu was a chief editor of a national daily [Yarına Bakıs], which was also shut down by the government, and he was facing an arrest warrant. The police couldn’t find him and they arrested his wife, Hacer Korucu. She stayed in prison for a month on account of her husband. At that moment, I thought my family is no longer safe either, so I decided to extract them out of the country.
GJ: Was your family directly threatened?
Bozkurt: When I moved out of Turkey I kept writing about what’s going on in Turkey. I guess they felt uncomfortable with my writings.
It was part of the intimidation campaign to go after family members, including my mother. She is a 79-year-old, she lives alone but sometimes my sister helps her out. Police raided her home in my hometown of Bandirma in December 2016, searched the house and placed her in detention for a day. She was questioned about me.
Why does she deserve that? They want me to shut up, to be silent even though I feel safe abroad.
Bozkurt: Of course I will get arrested. They even posted a “wanted” picture of me, and it was run in the pro-government dailies and in the state news agency. It’s like in the old Western movies: there is a picture of me and where I live. I have no prediction when I can go back to Turkey. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”6″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”2″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1517591299623-14a913d2-eca2-3″ taxonomies=”22142″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”96900″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Thirty-one people, mostly Zaman journalists, appeared before a judge for the second time on 8 December on charges of aiding Turkey’s failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016 in a session held in the courtroom on the territory of the Silivri Prison Complex, which is currently home to some 150 journalists.
Most of the suspects were marking their 500th day in prison on the day of the trial. The world didn’t seem to care.
The crowds that attended the Cumhuiyettrial weren’t there. Only suspects’s families, several international observers and reporters from just two agencies and a local journalism organisation followed the hearing, which went on until after midnight. Among the defendendts were famous columnists as Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç.
Article 19’s representative posted a picture of the lonely courthouse with a tweet: “At the courtroom for #zaman trial, including several journalists and famous columnist Sahin Alpay. Apart from relatives of defendants there is hardly anyone here #journalism is not a crime.”
Zaman was the flagship newspaper of the Fethullah Gülen network, which has been declared public enemy number one since the attempted coup. Turkey claims that the Gülen network — with which the government had fallen out in 2012 — was behind the coup attempt. But foes of the government love to hate the Gülen movement, and maybe rightly so. At the peak of their power, prosecutors affiliated with the Gülen network conducted investigations into writers, secularist military officers and others, accusing them of plotting a coup against the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Many, including journalist Ahmet Şık, were jailed for months, some even years, on what today are known to be mostly false charges.
The suspects, who already submitted their full defense statements in the first hearing in September, were allowed to speak in the second hearing. As is the case in most of Turkey’s politically motivated trials, the sense of a combination of personal tragedy and Turkey’s own traumas over the past decade — starting with growing polarisation, which some say lies in the heart of Turkish President Erdoğan’s successive election victories; unnamed regime change; a bloody coup attempt was almost palpable in suspect testimonies. Some were fearful, some resentful, some apologetic. Many said they regretted having written at Zaman, while few said they were proud.
Former Zaman writer Ahmet Turan Alkan’s defense statement was unapologetic. He spoke clearly, distinctly and with purpose. Looking at the judges, he said:”You can’t take 500 days stolen from the life of a person lightly. For this reason, I ask of you to forgive me, I am a little bit angry, I am enraged.”
Alkan stressed the violations of due diligence, which have also been pointed out by international observers, “You are more aware of this fact than I am: This case is the result of a vengeful ambition, of political grudge. The accusations against me are mind bogglingly severe , while the evidence department is empty.”
He continued: “Is it that easy in this Republic of Turkey, which is governed by rule of law, to steal 500 days of the life of a person on such light and facetious accusations? I will answer: Yes. Is it that cheap playing with my life, honor and professional reputation? The answer is yes. “
The former Zaman writers also chastised some of the other defendants, who in their statements said their affiliation with Zaman had been a mere result of the circumstances. “I wrote at Zaman for 20 years. I am a Zaman columnist. I wrote what I believed in. I have no political commitments to anyone, neither to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or Fethullah Gülen, and I am proud of this. This will be the most meaningful legacy I will be leaving to my grandchildren and children. Because I don’t know if I will walk out of prison alive.”
He said he was angry at the state. “I was a nationalist in my youth, I wish that God will forgive me.” The journalist also had a message for the judges: “The government until today has never owned up to any of its mistakes. It’s always been bureaucrats who have had to pay the price.”
“I don’t expect to see compassion or justice from you. I just need you to put concrete laws to work,” he said, and finally completed his statement:“There are such courts that it is better to be the defendant in them than the judge.”
In stark contrast, former Zaman columnist and liberal academic İhsan Dağı — who was released pending trial earlier in the investigation and therefore testified via court-conferencing from Ankara, where he lives — was regretful. He said he agreed with the indictment, that the Gülen network was a terrorist organization and Zaman had become a mouthpiece for it. “I am accused because I wrote for the Zaman newspaper. I left the newspaper the moment when I understood that it had turned into a mouthpiece for FETÖ propaganda,” he said, which made him the only defendant to use the acronym used for the Gülen network by Turkish authorities. He said “FETÖ” was a “post-modern terrorist organisation,” hiding behind a legitimate face and using not its own weapons, but those of the state.
Other writers and columnists
Former Zaman columnist Lale Kemal, who was also let go after spending three months in prison, also testified via the court’s video conferencing system. She likened her ordeal to Kafka’s The Trial. She said: “There are three short paragraphs about me in the indictment. There is not a single piece of evidence against me.”
She said she was known professionally for her opposition to all military interventions, against that as a defense reporter, this has made her life difficult as she was not well liked by military officers.
“I think my being tried here has something to do with that hostility [some generals have felt towards me].”
She said she worked from home, and visited the Zaman building in Ankara maybe once or twice. “The claim that I am part of a hierarchical structure is out of reason.”
“How can I know about an organisation where the senior administration of intelligence organisations failed to monitor and prevent?”, she asked.
Lawyer Cengiz: Indicted for acting as lawyer for Zaman
Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, whose name is named only mentioned once in the indictment — on a page which lists the names of the suspects — said he was included in the investigation after filing an application with the constitutional court against the government’s appointing trustees to Zaman. Saying that throughout his career he had defended people of all creeds, Cengiz said his inclusion in the indictment was a blatant attack on the right to defense. He asked for his acquittal.
Şahin Alpay: “I was mistaken”
Columnist Şahin Alpay, who is 73 and who has complained of poor health, said he had been imprisoned for more than 16 months. Alpay said he was accused on the basis of seven articles published in the Zaman daily three or four years ago.
Alpay said the articles showed his commitment to parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, saying they were evidence in his favor, not against. “Everyone knows that I defend exclusion of violence from politics as a fundamental principle.“
“I sent in my articles via email and I never worked as an editor or executive at the newspaper. If there had been a judicial ruling about the Gülen network being a criminal organisation, I wouldn’t have written for Zaman for another day. If it had ever occurred to me that the members of this movement will one day participate in a coup attempt, I would have never written for Zaman,” he said.
“I was mistaken because I failed to see the dark and secret face of the Gülen movement, to that, I’ll admit. I am not a terrorist. I have always been against violence and terrorism all my life.”
He also said he was not an enemy of the government, but had merely criticized its policies after 2011.
No evidence against suspects
Many suspects in the trial — journalists and financial or advertising staff alike — said they weren’t sure what the indictment accuses them of. Mustafa Ünal, another former columnist, said “I have been under arrest for 500 days. I don’t know why I am under arrest. I am not a terrorist. I have written thousands of articles. I haven’t uttered a single word in favor of a coup. I am not a member of a terrorist organisation. If you claim the contrary, you should prove it.”
Columnist Ali Bulaç said: “That I wrote for Zaman is shown as an element of crime, there is no other evidence.”
Another Mümtazer Türköne, “Many people here don’t have any idea what they are accused of. The articles presented here can only be presented in my favor as each of them contained arguments against coups and for democracy.”
Both Bulaç and Türköne had been with Zaman for a very long time and both are well known writers.
İbrahim Karayeğen, a former editor said, “I don’t know what I am accused of. I can only make guesses. I worked as a night shift editor at Zaman for 12 years. I wasn’t an executive, I had no say on editorial policy. I understand that it is journalism on trial here. Journalism is not a crime,” he said.
Mehmet Özdemir: “I have been a journalist for 20 years. I haven’t done anything else. There is no evidence against me in the indictment, and nor can there be any. Because there is no crime.”
Defendants Şeref Yıldız, Onur Kutlu, İsmail Küçük and Hüseyin Belli, who were imprisoned for accepting old vehicles in return for premium payments owed by Zaman, also asked for their acquittal. Kutlu, Küçük and Belli were released in the court’s interim ruling.
The next hearing will be heard on 5 April 2018. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Mapping Media Freedom” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-times-circle” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]
Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified more than 3,700 violations against journalists and media outlets.
Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
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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.