Iso­lat­ing Turkey serves Er­do­gan: jour­nal­ists

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION - By Michelle Fitz­patrick

FRANK­FURT: Think­ing back to his months in an Is­tan­bul prison last year, Turk­ish jour­nal­ist Can Dun­dar re­calls a fel­low in­mate ask­ing a guard for a book from the prison li­brary.

“We don’t have the book, but we have the au­thor,” came the re­ply.

The anec­dote, told with a wry smile dur­ing a round­table dis­cus­sion at the Frank­furt book fair, ex­em­pli­fies Turkey’s crack­down on free­dom of ex­pres­sion in the wake of last year’s failed coup.

Among the more than 50,000 peo­ple ar­rested since then are 180 jour­nal­ists, and Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has faced fierce crit­i­cism from the West over the re­pres­sion.

But Dun­dar – seated next to cel­e­brated Turk­ish nov­el­ist Asli Er­do­gan, her­self held for four months on “ter­ror pro­pa­ganda” charges – urged Euro­pean gov­ern­ments not to turn their backs on Turkey as the rift with Er­do­gan widens.

“Iso­lat­ing Turkey means sup­port­ing Er­do­gan, not us,” Dun­dar told the au­di­ence. “Push­ing Turkey to Rus­sia and Iran is not a smart idea.”

Mil­lions of Turks voted against grant­ing Er­do­gan sweep­ing new pow­ers in last April’s con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum, he added.

And re­cent opin­ion polls had shown a drop in sup­port for the vet­eran Turk­ish leader, who first came to power in 2002.

“At least half the coun­try now is re­sist­ing, suf­fer­ing and strug­gling at the same time,” the for­mer ed­i­torin-chief of the Cumhuriyet op­po­si­tion news­pa­per said.

The round­table talk was one of a se­ries of events at this year’s book fair, the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try’s top an­nual show­case, to shine a spot­light on press free­dom in Turkey.

Ear­lier this week jailed Turk­ish in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Ah­met Sik re­ceived an award in ab­sen­tia for coura­geous jour­nal­ism, and sup­port­ers of Ger­many’s Die Welt cor­re­spon­dent Deniz Yu­cel called for his re­lease un­der the ban­ner #FreeD­eniz.

Award-win­ning nov­el­ist Burhan Son­mez, the third par­tic­i­pant in Thurs­day’s dis­cus­sion in the west­ern Ger­man city of Frank­furt, said he had re­cently re­turned to live in Is­tan­bul af­ter spend­ing a decade in Bri­tain.

He said dis­sent­ing voices live un­der a cloud of fear in Turkey.

“You don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen the next morn­ing. You could be at work or in prison,” he said.

But it was also what spurred him on. “You have to speak, you have to write. Be­cause you could be next.”

“Er­do­gan be­lieves that Turkey be­longs to him, but Turkey be­longs to us,” he went on. “We are the cul­tural, so­cial life.”

Dun­dar, who fled to Ger­many af­ter be­ing sen­tenced to a near sixyear prison term for re­veal­ing state se­crets, de­scribed a con­stant catand-mouse game with Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties in a bid to cir­cum­vent re­stric­tions and reach read­ers.

“Since the me­dia is con­trolled by the gov­ern­ment we need to find new ways to ex­press our­selves and give voice to the voice­less.

“Thank God peo­ple in Turkey know how to reach cen­sored web­sites,” the be­spec­ta­cled 56-year-old fur­ther added.

Asli Er­do­gan, 50, who was freed in De­cem­ber pend­ing trial but only saw her pass­port re­turned to her last month, said, how­ever, it was “too easy to blame ev­ery­thing on Er­do­gan,” point­ing to Turkey’s badly frac­tured op­po­si­tion.

“The Ar­me­nian is­sue, the Kur­dish is­sue, these are fault lines that break the op­po­si­tion. We can’t form a strong bar­rier against Er­do­gan and his tyranny be­cause of these fault lines.”

Dun­dar and Asli Er­do­gan both pleaded for more sol­i­dar­ity with the writ­ers be­ing de­tained – not just with words but with ac­tion.

“We have to tell them we haven’t for­got­ten about them,” said Er­do­gan, whose next court date in the trial over her links to a pro-Kur­dish news­pa­per is on Oct. 31. She faces a life­time be­hind bars if con­victed.

Dun­dar – who was ar­rested af­ter pub­lish­ing an ar­ti­cle ac­cus­ing Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence ser­vices of traf­fick­ing arms to Syria – urged jour­nal­ists around the world to pick up the ba­ton and fol­low up on “the banned sto­ries, the cen­sored sto­ries.”

That would show the de­tained re­porters they were be­ing sup­ported, he said.

“And to the gov­ern­ment it would send the mes­sage: If you touch a jour­nal­ist, you only make the story big­ger.”

Asli Er­do­gan and Dun­dar pleaded for more sol­i­dar­ity with the writ­ers be­ing de­tained.

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