Charges Against Journalists Dim the Democratic Glow in Turkey
By DAN BILEFSKY and SEBNEM ARSU
Mr. Sener, who has spent nearly 20 years exposing government corruption, is among 13 defendants who appeared in state court this week at the imposing
The other defendants include the editors of a staunchly secular Web site critical of the government and Ahmet Sik, a journalist who has written that an Islamic movement associated with Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric living in
At a time when
The arrests threaten to darken the image of Mr. Erdogan, who is lionized in the Middle East as a powerful regional leader who can stand up to
There are now 97 members of the news media in jail in
In court on Wednesday, a defiant Mr. Sener, looking gaunt and pale, blamed the police officials he had investigated for setting him up. “It has been 11 months that I have not been given the chance to utter a single word to defend myself,” he said, speaking to friends during a brief intermission. “I have been a victim in a revenge operation — nothing else.”
The European Human Rights Court received nearly 9,000 complaints against
Human rights advocates say they fear that with the Arab Spring lending new regional influence to
Among the most glaring breaches of press freedom, human rights advocates say, was the arrest of Mr. Sener, 45, a German-born reporter who was working for the newspaper Milliyet at the time of his arrest. In 2010 he won the International Press Institute’s World Press Freedom Hero award for his reporting on the murder of Hrant Dink, a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist who was assassinated in
Mr. Sener said he believed that he was in jail because he dared to write a book criticizing the Turkish state’s negligence in failing to prevent Mr. Dink’s murder. His defense team says the prosecution’s case rests on spurious evidence, including a file bearing his name that an independent team of computer engineers concluded had been mysteriously installed by a virus on a computer belonging to OdaTV, an antigovernment Web site. He was held for seven months without charges. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in jail.
“Nedim Sener is being accused on the basis of rumors and fantasies,” said his lawyer, Yucel Dosemeci. “He is being targeted to create a culture of fear.”
In late December,
Over the past year, the government has been arresting prominent critics like Mr. Sener, as well as dozens of current and former military personnel, intellectuals and politicians who have been linked to what officials say was a plot to overthrow the government by an organization called Ergenekon.
Four years into the investigation, no one among the more than 300 suspects charged in the case has been convicted, even though courts have heard more than 8,000 pages worth of indictments, many of them based on transcripts of surreptitiously recorded private telephone conversations.
Advocates for press freedom say that the government has also moved to mute opposition by using punitive fines and by intimidating the ownership of leading media companies.
In a celebrated case in 2009, the Dogan media group, a large conglomerate, was saddled with a $2.5 billion fine by the Tax Ministry for unpaid taxes. Dogan officials say privately that the real reason was that its publications had given prominent attention to a series of corruption scandals involving senior government officials.
The European Union has expressed concerns about the chilling effect of the fine, which was negotiated down to about $621 million, officials familiar with the case say, as part of a tax amnesty issued last year.
Now, some journalists who work for the Dogan group say there is an unwritten rule not to criticize the governing party. Mr. Erdogan, who has previously called on his supporters to boycott the Dogan group, strongly denied any political motives behind the fine.
After Mr. Erdogan swept to power in 2002, human rights activists initially lauded him for expanding free speech. But after an unsuccessful attempt by the secular opposition to ban Mr. Erdogan’s party in 2008, critics say, Mr. Erdogan embarked on a systematic campaign to silence his opponents.
They say the curbs on press freedom also reflect the fact that
Mr. Sener and Mr. Sik were defiant in March as police officers took them into custody at their homes before television cameras. “Whoever touches it gets burned!” Mr. Sik shouted, referring to the Gulen movement, whose members, analysts say, have infiltrated the highest levels of the country’s police and judiciary.
In March, the unpublished manuscript of Mr. Sik’s book on the movement, “The Army of the Imam,” was confiscated by police officers. But the police were unable to stop its publication on the Internet, where at least 20,000 users downloaded it.
While the Internet has become the main weapon against censorship, more than 15,000 Web sites have been blocked by the state, according to engelliweb.com, which tracks restricted pages. For more than two years until last fall, YouTube was banned on the grounds that some videos on the site were insulting to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern
The monitoring agency last summer called on Web sites to ban 138 words, including “animal,” “erotic” and “zoo” in English and “fat,” “blonde” and “skirt” in Turkish. It is a tribute to
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs