For the second year running CPJ, (the Committee to Protect Journalists) finds Turkey tops the list in its diligence in oppressing journalists and writers, only matched by China and Egypt
“In Turkey, some members of the judiciary have become the gravediggers of justice.” Ahmet Şik, jailed journalist
For the second year running CPJ, (the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City) finds Turkey tops the list in its diligence in oppressing journalists and writers, only matched by China and Egypt, countries and continents far from the European heartland of liberal values and democracy.
Their December 17th analysis saw the number of jailed journalists increase on the already high-tide mark of 2016, only now it appears the extraordinary has started to become ordinary, as they turn their gaze on the so-called liberal democracies for their refusal to act in the interest of their own norms and values and instead, turn a blind eye (in the interest of business-as-usual, of course) on those regimes denying their own people the most fundamental of rights.
“The world’s worst jailers–Turkey, China, and Egypt”
“For the second year in a row, the number of journalists imprisoned for their work hit a historical high, as the U.S. and other Western powers failed to pressure the world’s worst jailers–Turkey, China, and Egypt–into improving the bleak climate for press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists found.”
As of December 1, 2017, CPJ counted 262 journalists behind bars around the world for practicing their trade. Figures for 2016 were 259. Turkey (“the world’s largest prison for journalists”) again comes top of the list for jailing journalists, with 73 journalists imprisoned for their work as the country continues its crackdown on a free press. China and Egypt took second and third place, with 41 and 20 journalists jailed respectively. These three are responsible for jailing 134, or 51 percent of the total global estimate.
In addition, The Free Journalists Initiative (Özgür Gazeteciler İnisiyatifi – ÖGİ – based in Diyarbakir) figures for Turkey in 2017 were 189 journalists arrested by police, while 58 of them were remanded in prison. Overall 165 journalists in the country are still behind bars pending trial. 35 media outlets were closed with post-coup emergency decrees. Access to 37 news websites were banned. 25 journalists were fired from their media institutions. Press cards of 100 journalists were revoked. Overall 81 journalists got 183 years, 4 months and 18 days of jail time in addition to TL 333,120 ($95,000) fine in total.
The Irrational Made Normal
Investigative journalist, author and trade unionist, Ahmet Şik’s case makes interesting reading in the CPJ Report:
“Prominent journalist Ahmet Şik was acquitted of terrorism charges in April after a six-year trial in which the defendants said they were victims of police and judicial officials linked to Gülen. Şik remained in jail, however, on fresh terror charges for allegedly being linked to Gülen, and many of the police officers, prosecutors, and judges who brought the original case found themselves accused of terror activity. Şik pointed out the contradiction in a lengthy statement to the court in July, saying: “In Turkey, some members of the judiciary have become the gravediggers of justice.”
Ahmet Şik’s career is a good example of how dangerous it is to be a writer and have an opinion in Turkey. In 2008 he was acquitted of charges of insulting the military under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. In 2009, he had to leave Turkey for a year, “fearing officials who had been targets of his reporting”. In June 2010, after the publication of his two-volume book ‘Kirk katir, kirk satir’, he was indicted on charges of “breaching confidentiality of the documents.” His book, The Imam’s Army, cost him a year in detention 2011–2012. In 2015, Şik courageously published a book on the relationship between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen movement, and was indicted twice with charges of insulting Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. On 29 December 2016, Şik was taken into custody once again on charges of “propaganda of terrorist organisations”, with reference to 11 of his tweets.
Makes you wonder why anyone would want to put pen to paper in Turkey?
“My writings are published in thirty or forty languages
in my Turkey in my Turkish they are banned” (‘Autobiography’)
…Nâzım Hikmet, the left-wing Turkish poet wrote in exile in East Berlin in September 1961. Not much seems to have improved in the intervening years..?
Surveying this CPJ end-of-year snapshot it would also seem to be a question of “making it up as you go along” if not for the shrewd politic isolation of any form of opposition or criticism that is becoming the defining characteristic of Turkey’s struggling democracy, making one wonder if the use of the term “fascism” by the radical opposition is really an exaggeration?
One wonders why the Turkish Right are so afraid of freedom of expression that they would threaten to hang a young poet like Nâzım Hikmet (“If instead of being hanged by the neck / you’re thrown inside / for not giving up hope / in the world, your country, your people” – ‘Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison’) and continue to plague writers since then with indictments and charges of “insulting the Turkish state and the government”, “insulting the President”, “terrorist propaganda” “propaganda of a terrorist organization”, etc. etc. Maybe it makes sense if you step across the line – from the limited and constantly-negotiated values (we take for granted) of liberal democracy with a sort-of free press – into the strange brutal world of power-at-any-price and for President Recip Tayipp Erdoğan this would appear to be the world the ruling junta in Turkey and other countries currently occupies and seeks to normalise.
President Erdoğan’s recent visit to France and his engagement with French journalists showed the extent of the distance from the liberal values of press freedom. Questioned by a French journalist (who, fortunately or unfortunately, he had no power to arrest) on arms shipments Turkey is alleged to have sent to Islamic groups in Syria, Erdoğan lost his temper and responded by accusing the journalist of “speaking the language” of Turkey’s outlawed Gulenist movement:
“Mr. Erdoğan said newspaper columnists were partly responsible for nurturing terrorism and defended the detention of Osman Kavala, a prominent Turkish human rights activist.”
“Terror doesn’t form by itself. Terror and terrorists have gardeners…These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They water (terror) with the columns in their newspapers. And one day, you find, these people show up as a terrorist in front of you…” he was quoted as saying.
No Price to Pay
The CPJ goes on to say:
“Erdoğan’s government appeared to pay little price for its repressive tactics. In April, he narrowly won a referendum–amid procedural objections by the opposition that went unheeded–that will abolish the country’s parliamentary system and grant him sweeping powers. On the international stage, German officials including Chancellor Angela Merkel have repeatedly called for the release of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, who works for the German newspaper Die Welt and who has been held without charge since February 14. But the NATO allies are bound by Turkey’s role in harboring Syrian refugees and other cooperation agreements. Trump, meanwhile, hosted Erdoğan at the White House in May and more recently praised him as a friend.”
Likewise media throughout 2017 carried reports of England (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/22/uk-arms-sales-turkey-rights-abuse), Germany (http://www.dw.com/en/turkey-arms-exports-should-germany-send-weapons-at-all/a-41010866), and now just recently France (http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/press-freedom-agenda-erdogan-meets-macron-paris-52157498), selling weapons and technology to Turkey, irrespective of their muted statements at the repression currently accelerating in post-coup post-PKK-peace-talks Turkey.
Other countries named in the Report
…President Xi Jinping’s China, where the number of journalists behind bars rose from 38 to 41 last year. Egypt where the number in jail fell to 20 from 25 last year, but in April “…soon after el-Sisi met Trump at the White House, his government passed a draconian anti-terrorism law that furthered its crackdown on the press by, among other things, enabling authorities to put journalists acquitted of terrorism-related charges on a terror watch list that restricts their financial and other rights, according to news reports.”
So who’s left to defend freedom of the press and the other human rights of citizens currently being trampled on?
Alongside the recent arms (and other lucrative) deals between the NATO allies as well as Europe’s fear and Turkey’s role in controlling the flow of Syrian refugees, (which is, of course, good business), President Trump comes in for special criticism:
“Trump, meanwhile, hosted Erdoğan at the White House in May and more recently praised him as a friend.
On a visit to Beijing in November, Trump made no public reference to human rights, despite an ongoing crackdown that has led to the arrests of Chinese journalists, activists, and lawyers.
Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists.”
…Another Year. More bad news expected. Starting now with this new record high of 262 journalists locked up around the world for daring to put pen to paper. And after hearing all that we are also reminded of places like Eritrea where a writer like Dawit Isaak has not been heard from since his arrest in 2001 and where his family, like too many other families confronted with the same terror, cannot know whether he is alive or dead. Who would have thought words could be so dangerous?
…These same words that can also carry hope:
Letter To My Wife
My one and only!
Your last letter says:
“My head is throbbing,
my heart is stunned!”
“If they hang you,
if I lose you,
You’ll live, my dear–
my memory will vanish like black smoke in the wind.
Of course you’ll live, red-haired lady of my heart:
in the twentieth century
at most a year.
a body swinging from a rope.
can’t accept such a death.
you can bet
if some poor gypsy’s hairy black
slips a noose
around my neck,
they’ll look in vain for fear
In the twilight of my last morning
will see my friends and you,
and I’ll go
to my grave
regretting nothing but an unfinished song…
eyes sweeter than honey–my bee!
Why did I write you
they want to hang me?
The trial has hardly begun,
and they don’t just pluck a man’s head
like a turnip.
Look, forget all this.
If you have any money,
buy me some flannel underwear:
my sciatica is acting up again.
And don’t forget,
a prisoner’s wife
must always think good thoughts.
(Translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, 1993)
Read the CPJ Report:
IMAGE of Ahmet Şik:
By Hilmi Hacaloğlu – Gazeteci Ahmet Şık Tutuklandi, Public Domain,
CPJ, The Worst Jailers of Journalists Pay Little Price for Repression
Erdoğan clashes with French journalist in Paris