Turk­ish jour­nal­ists go on trial

Rights ac­tivists slam pro­ceed­ings as a bid to muz­zle free speech

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Ka­reem Sha­heen Gözde Hatunoğlu

The trial of 17 re­porters and ex­ec­u­tives from Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s last op­po­si­tion news­pa­pers, be­gan on Mon­day with hu­man rights ac­tivists con­demn­ing the muz­zling of free speech in a coun­try that im­pris­ons many jour­nal­ists.

The charges be­ing brought in­clude ac­cu­sa­tions that Cumhuriyet’s jour­nal­ists aided the sep­a­ratist Kur­dis­tan Work­ers party (PKK) and the move­ment led by the cleric Fethul­lah Gülen, who is widely be­lieved in Turkey to have or­ches­trated a coup at­tempt last year, and com­plaints of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the elec­tions of the news­pa­per’s board of ex­ec­u­tives.

Rights ac­tivists said the trial was an as­sault on free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the ac­cu­sa­tions were ab­surd be­cause Cumhuriyet, the coun­try’s news­pa­per of record and one that is com­mit­ted to sec­u­lar­ism, has long warned of the dan­gers of the Gülen move­ment, which it­self has long been at odds with the PKK. They ar­gue that the other charges are an at­tempt at re­plac­ing the news­pa­per’s board of di­rec­tors with gov­ern­ment ap­pointees more pli­able to the rul­ing party’s in­flu­ence.

“I have been a jour­nal­ist for a long time and have dealt with this for a long time,” said Ay­din En­gin, who is stand­ing trial, but had been re­leased for health rea­sons. “I am ashamed and in agony for my coun­try be­cause of these ir­ra­tional ac­cu­sa­tions.”

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan and his rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment party have for years worked to dis­man­tle or co-opt Turkey’s free press. That crack­down has ac­cel­er­ated in the year since the coup last July, with more than 150 jour­nal­ists be­lieved to be be­hind bars in Turkey.

As of March, 173 me­dia out­lets had been shut down, in­clud­ing news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, ra­dio sta­tions, web­sites and news agen­cies. More than 2,500 jour­nal­ists have been laid off and 800 have had their press cards re­voked, says the Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s party, the main op­po­si­tion bloc.

The gov­ern­ment has also ex­erted pres­sure on me­dia out­lets that do not toe the of­fi­cial line by pres­sur­ing ad­ver­tis­ers not to do busi­ness with them and pur­su­ing cases of defama­tion, or by slap­ping them with large, un­payable fines. Af­ter me­dia out­lets that once be­longed to the Gülen move­ment were seized, the gov­ern­ment ap­pointed trustee boards that have trans­formed those news­pa­pers and TV sta­tions into a loy­al­ist press.

That threat of a trustee board hangs over Cumhuriyet, a news­pa­per that was founded in 1924 and is the only se­ri­ous news­pa­per in cir­cu­la­tion that is ve­he­mently op­posed to gov­ern­ment poli­cies. It has de­scribed the crack­down af­ter the coup in which the gov­ern­ment dis­missed or de­tained tens of thou­sands of civil ser­vants, po­lice and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, aca­demics, judges and jour­nal­ists as a “witch­hunt”, and has re­peat­edly crit­i­cised Er­doğan as an au­thor­i­tar­ian at­tempt­ing to de­stroy democ­racy.

“Er­doğan has de­scribed democ­racy as a train be­fore,” said En­gin, a ref­er­ence to a quote from the pres­i­dent who once de­scribed democ­racy as a train that peo­ple could get off when they had reached their des­ti­na­tion.

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Court protest … op­po­si­tion news­pa­per is un­der threat

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