Turkey's Press Freedom Crisis: The Dark Days of Jailing Journalists and Criminalizing Dissent.

05 December 2012

pro-europa.eu 5 December 2012

The Committee to Protect Journalists Special Report: The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has waged one of the world’s biggest crackdowns on press freedom in recent history.

Authorities have imprisoned journalists on a mass scale on terrorism or anti-state charges, launched thousands of other criminal prosecutions on charges such as denigrating Turkishness or influencing court proceedings, and used pressure tactics to sow self-censorship. Erdogan has publicly deprecated journalists, urged media outlets to discipline or fire critical staff members, and filed numerous high-profile defamation lawsuits.

In 1996, Turkish authorities jailed as many as 78 journalists, CPJ research shows. Today, Turkey’s imprisonments surpass the next most-repressive nations, including Iran, Eritrea, and China.

Journalist Ahmet Sik found himself behind bars for writing a book that was not even published. So explosive was the subject of The Imam’s Army that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan likened it to a bomb. Sik was probing too far into one of the most influential and underreported forces in modern Turkish politics—the Gülen movement.

"I was arrested before I had the chance to put something new in the book,” Sik told CPJ of his March 2011 detention on initial charges of participating in the alleged Ergenekon anti-government conspiracy. Sik had been looking for evidence to support claims that the Islamic movement headed by the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen had infiltrated Turkey’s powerful police and judiciary and was exerting a growing influence over the Erdogan administration.

Sik believes that "There are lots of people among the accused I believe are guilty, but they are not being tried for their actual crimes. This is political score-settling. I believe that if there were an honest investigation in Ergenekon it would lead to democratization, but that is not what is happening.”

"The police officers responsible for the murder of Hrant Dink are the same officers that are running the Ergenekon investigation, and they are also from the Fethullah Gülen movement. They included me in the operation they were running because of things I wrote in my book,” Sener said. Sener thinks he was accused of involvement in the conspiracy because of his investigations into the Dink murder. In 2010, he was tried and acquitted under anti-terrorism laws on charges of revealing secret documents in a book he wrote alleging involvement by the national intelligence service MIT, the police, and gendarmerie in Dink’s murder.

"The police officers responsible for the murder of Hrant Dink are the same officers that are running the Ergenekon investigation, and they are also from the Fethullah Gülen movement.

Kurdish journalists constituted more than 70 percent of the 76 journalists imprisoned in Turkey when CPJ conducted an extensive survey in August 2012. The Kurdish issue provides a particularly tense context to the question of press freedom in Turkey. The Kurdish journalists’ fate does not simply test the democratic character of the Turkish state, it challenges Turkey’s sense of identity and is intimately linked to the Kurdish struggle for empowerment.

Turkish Kurds make up 12 million to 20 million of the country’s total population of 75 million, with about half living in the southeast and half in western cities, particularly Istanbul, according to Human Rights Watch estimates. Due to a large diaspora, mainly in Western Europe, the Kurdish conflict has reverberated abroad. The Turkish government has repeatedly sought to shut down Roj TV, a pro-PKK satellite station based in Denmark and Belgium, CPJ research shows. In early 2012, suspected PKK sympathizers ransacked and firebombed offices in Paris, Cologne, and other European cities of Zaman, a leading Turkish newspaper close to the Fethullah Gülen movement and generally supportive of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. (continue reading...)