A model of oppression?

A model of oppression?
A protest in Istanbul against the arrest of journalists

Turkey, regarded by many as a model of democracy for the “awakening” Arab countries, loses its credibility as it carries out a harsh crackdown on media and silences the critics. Now it’s the Turkish dissidents that are talking about an Arab model against the oppression.
When the prominent representatives of academic and intellectual circles were first arrested in the “Ergenekon” case 4 years ago, charged with belonging to a shadowy ultranationalist terror organization aimed at toppling the government, Turkish society in general was divided into two between those who believed that the arrests could be just and those claiming it was a war against the dissidents. While those arrested years ago are still waiting to learn their fates, almost periodical arrests of journalists have become a part of the routine. Those who thought that the case was a fight against the anti-democratic elements within the state institutions were mostly disappointed. The hundreds of arrests that disturbed the public’s conscience diminished the credibility of the claim that the case is about bringing the executors of the bloody coups of the past to justice. The lack and unreliability of the evidence against the defendants supported the opposition’s claim that the charges are politically motivated to silence the critics.

A model of oppression?
Ahmet ??k (left) and Nedim ?ener are arrested since March 2011
With the March 2011 arrest of international award winning journalist Nedim Şener and his colleague Ahmet Şık, reaction to the arrests started to go up. Nedim Şener, one of the most renowned investigative journalists in Turkey, was trying to bring to light the connection between the “deep state” and the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. Ahmet Şık, on the other hand, wrote books and articles on the mechanism of deep state. When they were arrested with the charges of belonging to the very organization that they were trying to expose, it was seen as too absurd to be real. Although their supporters said that the ludicrosity of the charges against Şener and Şık showed the logic defying nature of the case, these charges were enough to keep them in jail for months.
Friends and supporters insist that Şık was arrested because he was investigating the Fethullah Gülen movement, an Islamist network whose followers are among the supporters of the government. Şener was trying to prove that the police and the state institutions were involved in Hrant Dink’s killing. Both Şık and Şener touched Turkey’s taboo subjects. What Ahmet Şık said while he was being arrested, “those who touch, get burnt”, turned into a slogan for those protesting the silencing of the critics. “We touch, even if we get burnt” has become the motto of the demonstrators. Ahmet Şık’s wife, Yonca Şık said that she is determined to keep on fighting and hopes that the Arab spring will be a model for those fighting against repression in Turkey.
Being the most high profile case against the journalists, the trial of Şener and Şık has become a symbol of the Turkish government’s oppression of the media. However, they are just two drops in the ocean. With the arrest of 36 journalists on the 20th of December, the number of arrested journalists in Turkey reached almost 100, more than any other country in the world. Those arrested on the 20th December are charged with belonging to Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization for Kurdish nationalist groups that the government accuses of acting as the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Mostly Kurdish, the journalists are charged with propaganda of a terrorist organization.
While the arrests stirred the outrage of international human rights organizations and NGOs, the Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin’s statement about the arrests shocked even more. Claiming that some people were supporting terrorism by trying to justify terrorist actions, Şahin said: “How do they support it? Maybe by painting they are reflecting it to their canvas. Writing poems, daily articles… and unable to slow themselves down, they are trying to demoralize the soldiers and the policemen who took part in the fight against terror by making them a subject of their art.”

After Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener’s arrests in March 2011, Human Rights Watch has published a statement harshly criticizing the prosecution against the journalists. It said, “Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, through laws introduced by the Justice and Development Party government in the previous parliament. There are also serious concerns about the high number of prosecutions, some of which result in convictions, for statements that neither advocate nor incite violence. Some journalists in Turkey have been subject to prolonged pre-trial detention. The more common trend is repeated prosecution, which Human Rights Watch considers as a form of harassment that can have a chilling effect on the legitimate right to free speech.”
With regards to the operation against KCK, the Turkish representative for Human Rights Watch, Emma Sinclair Webb stated that “the arrests represent a further clampdown on dissenting critical voices in Turkey. This has become a pattern, of the last few months... The trouble with Turkey's terrorism laws is that [they are] so widely drawn and vague that any of us can find ourselves suspect in terrorism investigation."
A report by the Council of Europe on January 10, criticized Turkey for using anti-terrorism laws “in cases where membership in a terrorist organization has not been proven and when an act or statement is deemed to coincide with the aims or instructions of a terrorist organization”. The report by the Council’s human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg noted that the defendants’ rights were violated by long pre-trial detentions, excessive use of secret witnesses and obstacles that prevent defence teams’ work.

A model of oppression?
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an received a hero’s welcome during his September visit to Tunisia.
As the oppression against free media started to resonate abroad, the headlines in the international press have also started to change. While at the onset of Arab awakening, almost all members of the mainstream Western media united to present Turkey as an example for being a Muslim democracy, now, some of the comments read as follows:

“Charges Against Journalists Dim the Democratic Glow in Turkey :
... At a time when Washington and Europe are praising Turkey as the model of Muslim democracy for the Arab world, Turkish human rights advocates say the crackdown is part of an ominous trend. 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 Israel and the West.” New York Times- January 4, 2012

“Is model Turkey sliding into authoritarianism? :
…Critics say that such cases are evidence that Turkey is sliding toward authoritarianism, even as it is lauded by Western governments as a role model for the Middle East – particularly in the wake of this year's Arab uprisings.” Christian Science Monitor – December 26, 2011”

“Seeking to silence dissent? :
Turkey has been touted as a model for the Arab Spring's fledgling democracies. Yet Turkish journalists, publishers, academics and human rights activists say they are being arrested and put on trial on charges of terrorism. They say the government has a simple message for Turks: reveal information that compromises our party, and risk being neutralised.” France24 – November 23, 2011

Övgü Pinar
16/01/2012

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