Turkey: The Prison of Journalists
“I am a young journalist from Turkey. I have worked for news agencies and newspapers before and I am very passionate about my job and also about human rights.”
That is how I described myself in job applications. Let’s check it again, honestly.
By Gökçe Akyüz
Am I really young? Why do I feel like I am over 60 and already want to retire and move to a small village? Why don’t I have a dream, plan or hope anymore? Can I really call the experiences I have gained so far as journalist? What did they teach me other than lying through the media? Most of the news I wrote were censored.
The media bosses wanted me to write that Turkish soldiers had killed PKK members, when they had actually killed children. When I refused, I was forced to write horoscopes instead. Only one thing is true in this text, I really am sensitive about human rights because there is a lack of them in Turkey. I’m 23 years old and I don’t remember how many friends I lost; killed, tortured or imprisoned. Many journalists are in prisons and many more of them are scared to talk because of this threat. I even stopped buying newspapers, as a journalist, because I am done supporting banal propoganda everywhere.
A coup, which should not be wished by anyone, was attempted approximately three weeks ago. Many people died. As a result, lack of trust in society and the damage in law don’t seem fixible anymore. In addition, the state of emergency that has subsequently been declared to fix the situation has actually had a negative effect. Not only the soldiers who attempted the coup got arrested, but also the civilians disagreeing with the government. Some newspapers have been closed, censorship is growing, each press organ says the same thing with the others, even they are ideologically opposites. No plural voice anymore. Police has the power to hold people under custody for a longer time. Furthermore, now the government can forbid theatre plays, movies, music and art before they are published. On top of that, being outside without an ID card or even hesitating to show it and gathering to protest are forbidden, too.
However, there is a bigger and more worrying point that I want to focus in this article: does the state of emergency change too many things in our lives?
I remember my first day of college: I was very excited, happily waiting for the professor in a small class. He was a very famous journalist lecturing in three prestigious universities.
He came with his majesty, and he started our first lecture of journalism by saying: “I never wrote news which can cause a damage to my state, my nation and my country, and never allow my students to do so even if it is true. Sometimes reality should hide for the good. If you call it as censorship, I am proud of it!”
He was a very famous journalist lecturing in three different and most prestigious universities back then. After that day, I understood what kind of prison I was born into.
In the first two weeks after the attempted coup, the number of imprisoned journalists increased by 62. This is twice as many as were in prison even after the coup in 1980, and the number is still increasing every day. This is a horribly high number, but it’s not unique. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey was already the country with the highest number of journalists in prison in 2012. At the start of that year, 104 journalists and 35 distributors were in prison. In April 2013, during another tumultous time in Turkey, another 65 reporters were imprisoned because of their journalistic practises. Reporters Without Borders indicate the same development: in 2005, Turkey occupied the 98th place on their Press Freedom Index, which had fallen to 151 earlier this year.
The government has been attacking the media for a long time. President Erdoğan doesn’t hesitate to exhibit an agressive attitude towards reporters, claiming that they are terrorists covering as journalists and declaring that some newspapers should not be read. Besides, in his speeches, he has also warned media owners, saying “You are responsible for those terrorists because you are paying for those dogs” while systematically pressuring them to fire the reporters he doesn’t like. Furthermore, the previous Minister of Interior İdris Naim Şahin said “Terror is now not in guns but in painting, canvas, poem, article and book.” That was the proof for the biggest prison of speeches on earth, Turkey.
Reports of civil organisations unfortunately cannot influence Turkey’s actions because the government determine what is justice now. The rules were so stretched that reporters were even claimed to be trying to fret the government by making news, and that their aim was to overthrow the government. After the coup attempt, the government announced an arrest list of 79 journalists including reporters Fatih Yagmur who is the first journalist publicizing support trucks to Syria (that I will explain in the following paragraph) and Ufuk Koroglu who published the telephone call which Former Minister of Interior Muammer Guler was saying “I would lie down in front of you Reza” to defend Reza Zarrab, who charged by the U.S. of running a plan to help the Iranian government launder hundreds of million dollars and evade economic sanctions. He is also a suspicious name in Turkey, too. After this news, Koroglu was fired as a punishment.
Although they say there is no thought crime in Turkey, people are accused of helping terrorists if they write certain news, of provoking public to hate each others, of breaking rules, humiliating state agencies, or of discouraging people from military service (for consicentious objectioners).
Most imprisoned journalists are accused of being an accessory to some terrorist groups such as the KCK or PKK. Others are accused of committing a crime against the state. For press workers, following a clue which might create a big news story, meeting with a possible source, attending protests and writing about them in the media can be counted as proof of such crimes. In these cases, reporters are punished even though they simply wrote down the opinions of the people they had interviewed.
To illustrate, a journalist named Can Dündar discovered that the Turkish secret service was sending military equipments to Syria (to ISIS, as he claimed) disguised as humanitarian supplies, and he got arrested for sharing state secrets with the public. And again, the publishers of the newsoutlets concerned can be targeted as well. In other words, expressing opinions and helping them to be expressed have the same result, they both are equally responsible for the dangerous effects of these opinions.
There we can see the reasons why some of the reporters are in prisons:
- Making propaganda for political groups, by writing about protests which are forbidden by the government such as certain demonstrations on Labour Day, Women’s Day, or a protest for free education.
- Revealing a state secret, by writing about the physical and sexual abuse of Kurdish children in jail.
- Claiming that news sources and meetings with the publication director and editor are terrorist meetings.
- Claiming that they are members of terrorist groups beucase of the book they haven’t published yet.
Obviously, Turkey was never a country that puts importance on freedom of speech. For dozens of years, the unrealistic rules are made up to lock journalists up because all criticisms are threats for the power of the state. Today, feeling of being safe is the most needed and I’m afraid it might be abused very easily by the government because now they are even not trying to people believe them with excuses anymore. This hunt for journalists is an advantageous title for the government in order to get rid of all the unwanted voice of media. Therefore, instead, they don’t refrain to punish everybody they hate, such as shutting down a dissident left-wing newspaper named Ozgur Gundem and arrest Kurdish Marxist journalists who are definitely not related to any religious terrorist groups because they are not believers.
I am 23 years old journalist from Turkey and I don’t I have a dream, plan or hope anymore. I am afraid there won’t let anyone to do journalism soon in my country than their puppets they paid for. The fear is getting bigger day by day with arrests, threats and the oppression. Worse, so tragic to see happy people.talking sabout it as “cleaning”. They advice me not to scare because they did not come for us. They were happy in 80’s because they came for communists. They were happy in 90’s because they came for the conservatives, in 2000’s they came for anti-authoritarian anarchists and now they are her efor Gulen members. The only thing I can think is, as Martin Niemöller said, tomorrow there will not be no one left to speak for me.