Turkish Journalism Behind Bars
Friday 29 April 2011
Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister of
Such a situation is intolerable anywhere, but particularly in a democracy that seeks European Union membership, and that recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental right.
Journalists linked to Kurdish or Marxist organizations have regularly been targeted under
The relative lack of scrutiny of
One of those accused of participating in the plot is the daily newspaper Milliyet’s investigative reporter Nedim ?ener, whose work includes a book about links between security forces and the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. The International Press Institute (IPI) named _ener a World Press Freedom Hero in 2010. Incarcerated following his arrest last month, he reportedly stands accused of belonging to an armed terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government.
Another journalist under fire is Ahmet ?ik, who already faced prosecution for co-writing a book criticizing the government’s crackdown on the Ergenekon plot. ?ik was said to be working on a book about the alleged influence of an Islamic group within Turkey’s police force, which authorities last month ordered confiscated before it could be printed.
A common thread in all of the cases targeting journalists is that the alleged facts are shrouded in secrecy, and the authorities have declined to release any evidence of crimes or criminal organizations. Worse still, they have declined even to inform those brought before courts – sometimes in secret – or their attorneys of the charges they face.
Indeed, journalists caught in this Kafkaesque affair can expect to spend years behind bars before being allowed to respond to the accusations against them. A climate of fear escalates with each raid and arrest.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities affirm the country’s commitment to press freedom, even as they impugn the motives of those who exercise it. Given that so many journalists have been jailed, and that all of them have been critical of the government, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that journalists are being targeted because of their work.
Such concern has been voiced not only by press-freedom groups such as IPI, and journalists, like the Freedom for Journalists Platform (an umbrella group representing local and national media organizations in Turkey), but also by respected international institutions. The
The right of journalists to cover sensitive topics, including national security, is fundamental. Those who do not engage in criminal activity should not face arrest, imprisonment, or any other form of harassment or intimidation for doing their job. Those accused of criminal activity must be given due process and a fair trial. Evidence must be provided, and the accused must be presented with the charges they face and the opportunity to defend themselves.
Far from being defamatory subversives, journalists who investigate and criticize their government’s actions demonstrate true patriotism, because no democracy can survive without the open and independent assessment of public policies that journalists provide. If Turkey, a major regional power with an ancient cultural heritage, truly wishes to be welcomed into Europe, to take its rightful place on the world stage, and, indeed, to remain a democracy, its leaders must not hold freedom of the press in contempt.
Alison Bethel McKenzie is Director of the International Press Institute (IPI).
Steven M. Ellis is the Press Freedom Advisor with the International Pres Institute (IPI).
Donations can be sent to the
"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