Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Turkish journalists: Persona non grata

The sweeping crackdown on the press in Turkey following July’s failed coup is continuing, reports Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian

Al-Ahram Weekly

As Turkey enters its second month of a three-month state of emergency, security officers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport confiscated the passport of the wife of exiled journalist Can Dündar and prevented her from boarding a plane to visit her husband in Europe this week.

“The Turkish authorities should cease preventing Dilek Dündar, the wife of Turkish journalist Can Dündar, from leaving the country,” the Turkish Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement on Saturday.

On Monday, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu protested at the government’s jailing of its critics. “We want a Turkey in which the media is free, journalists are not jailed, artists are not sacked, and scientists are not arrested [due to their views]. It is not my job alone to defend these things. It should be the common duty of all who stood against the coup attempt,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

“Today’s actions against Dilek Dündar are in clear retaliation for her husband’s journalistic work. Collectively punishing the Dündar family makes the Turkish authorities appear petty, vindictive and lawless,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia coordinator Nina Ognianova said in the statement.

Speaking to PEN International, an international writers’ association, Can Dündar said that “this latest example perfectly encapsulates Turkey’s authoritarian rule under the state of emergency. In our new judicial order, if one is put on trial one’s entire family can be treated like criminals.”

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Turkish human rights activist Ayse Gunaysu declared the action “unlawful and most importantly fascistic”.

“At a time when cities and towns are still under blockade and the sites where hundreds of civilians were killed are still closed to any kind of investigation, and where collecting evidence of crimes against humanity is impossible, such fascistic practices are no surprise. More than 100 journalists have been imprisoned. Thousands of civil servants, university lecturers, and health workers have been fired,” Gunaysu said.

On 23 July, Turkey passed a law under the emergency regulations following the attempted coup that gave the state the right to confiscate the passport of anyone under investigation and ordered the closure of thousands of private educational institutions, media organisations and publishing houses.

The decree, which immediately became Law 667, was the first passed by the country’s new council of ministers headed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

On 1 September an amendment came into force that extended the power to confiscate passports not only to those under investigation, but also to their spouses and partners. When Dilek Dündar’s passport was confiscated at the airport in Istanbul, she was informed that it “had been cancelled” on 4 August, almost a month before the amendment came into effect.

“The government feels absolutely free to violate all laws, whether national or international. It introduces laws without passing them in parliament and on the instructions of the cabinet,” Gunaysu said. “They don’t care if they are violating the international conventions they have signed. They don’t care a bit about the international community,” she told the Weekly.

PEN issued a petition last month in support of the 29 publishing houses in Turkey closed since the failed coup. “According to our colleagues at the Turkish Publishers Association, the closure of these publishing houses carries the risk of human rights violations, the stifling of freedom of thought and expression, and irreparable financial and moral losses,” the statement said.

“While recognising the right of the Turkish authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the failed coup, PEN calls on the Turkish authorities not to use the state of emergency to restrict lawful freedom of expression and to ensure that writers and publishers are able to freely carry out their activities,” it added.

One of the best-known figures in the Turkish media, Can Dündar, 55, a former editor of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, recipient of the 2016 CPJ International Press Freedom Award, the 2015 Reporters Without Borders Prize, and the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media from the Leipzig Media Foundation, announced his resignation in a farewell column published in the newspaper in 15 August.

Dündar was exiled to Germany and said he would not return to Turkey until the government lifted the state of emergency declared after the July failed military coup.

He was arrested along with colleague Erdem Gül in November 2015 on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage and aiding the Fethullah Gülen Organisation, a terrorist group according to the Turkish government.

The journalists’ arrests were connected to reports in Cumhuriyet in May and June 2015 alleging that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) had transferred weapons to Syria under the cover of humanitarian aid. “I suppose the person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price... I will not let him go,” Erdoğan said during a live broadcast on the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television at that time.

Dündar and Gül were sent to the Silivri Prison in Istanbul where they spent 92 days in custody before being released from pre-trial detention in February when their legal team petitioned the Constitutional Court for their release.

In May 2016, Dündar was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison. On the same day, he survived an assassination attempt in front of the Istanbul courthouse.

In late July, the wife of journalist Bülent Korucu was detained in the eastern province of Erzurum and is still being held in an attempt to force her husband to surrender to the police.

According to the CPJ’s annual report, Turkey was among the world’s worst jailers of journalists in 2015, with 14 imprisoned in December 2015. By 3 September this year at least 114 journalists were in detention or in prison in Turkey.

Turkish journalist Melveş Evin in an article on Diken.tr, a Website, said that “this number, which already breaks the world record, threatens to increase further with new investigations and court cases.”

Washington-based Turkish journalist Mahir Zeynalov, who writes for the Huffington Post and Al-Arabiya, tweeted that “I have lost count of how many of my colleagues are sitting in prison today. What a tragic period we are going through.”

Erdogan is on record as saying that “the titles of an MP, an academic, an author or a journalist do not change the fact that they are actually terrorists.”

“While Turkey’s mainstream media once tried to be objective, it has recently started shamelessly supporting the ruling AKP Party government, reading out or publishing only the news it is given by the authorities,” stated Gunaysu.

There are some relatively objective outlets, but these are under heavy pressure. IMC, for example, a satellite channel, has been excluded from nationwide TV platforms and state cable TV.

Some months ago, a group of Turkish journalists created a Twitter account called “Ben Gazeteciyim,” or “I am a journalist,” in which they said it “belongs to a group of volunteers who have launched an initiative to deepen solidarity with professional journalists” in Turkey.

Today the group has more than 15,000 followers. On 5 September, it tweeted that “as of today, 115 journalists are in jail in Turkey because of their profession.”

According to Gunaysu, novelist Asli Erdogan, named as one of the 50 best writers in the world by a French literature and art magazine, and writer Necmiye Alpay have been arrested on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

“Their arrest is because they are members of the Ozgur Gundem newspaper’s advisory board,” Gunaysu said. “They don’t even go to the newspaper. This case is also evidence of the poor situation of the media in Turkey.”

The pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem paper has not only now been closed down, it has also been raided by anti-terror police who beat several people who were detained and taken to police headquarters.

In the days following the coup attempt, the Turkish authorities not only closed publishing houses and arrested journalists and judges, but they also blocked access to more than 20 news Websites.

“I think we are going to lose our minds in this country,” Ayse Gunaysu concluded.

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