[Marxism] What country jails the most journalists?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 19 07:47:24 MDT 2012

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March 9, 2012
Turkey’s Jailed Journalists
Posted by Dexter Filkins

Quick: What country jails the most journalists?

If you guessed China, you were close, but no cigar. Twenty-seven 
reporters are in prison there, according to the Committee to 
Protect Journalists in New York. If you guessed Iran, you’re 
getting warmer—forty-two in prison there—but you’re still off.

How many of you guessed Turkey?

Measuring strictly in terms of imprisonments, Turkey—a longtime 
American ally, member of NATO, and showcase Muslim 
democracy—appears to be the most repressive country in the world.

According to the Journalists Union of Turkey, ninety-four 
reporters are currently imprisoned for doing their jobs. More than 
half are members of the Kurdish minority, which has been seeking 
greater freedoms since the Turkish republic was founded, in 1923. 
Many counts of arrested journalists go higher; the Friends of 
Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, a group of reporters named for two 
imprisoned colleagues, has compiled a detailed list of a hundred 
and four journalists currently in prison there.

The arrests have created an extraordinary climate of fear among 
journalists in Turkey, or, for that matter, for anyone 
contemplating criticizing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 
government. During my recent visit there, many Turkish reporters 
told me that their editors have told them not to criticize 
Erdogan. As I detail in my piece in the magazine this week, the 
arrests of journalists are part of a larger campaign by Erdogan to 
crush domestic opposition to his rule. Since 2007, more than seven 
hundred people have been arrested, including members of 
parliament, army officers, university rectors, the heads of aid 
organizations, and the owners of television networks.

Mind you, Turkey is a democracy, or at least, it’s supposed to be. 
Erdogan’s triumph, and that of his party, in 2002, represented an 
epochal shift in Turkey’s political history. The election threw 
out an entrenched secular minority that had governed the country 
since its founding, often suppressing the majority of moderately 
religious Turks. In his nine years in power, Erdogan has 
transformed Turkish society in many positive ways. But, more and 
more, Erdogan’s Turkey is coming to resembled Putin’s Russia—a 
kind of one-party democracy.

If you bring this up with Turkish authorities, you won’t get very 
far. When I raised the issue of domestic repression with Ahmet 
Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, last month, he told me in 
an irritated voice that his government wasn’t responsible. Ibrahim 
Kalin, an Erdogan adviser, told me that most of the arrested 
journalists were not journalists at all, but terrorists or 
criminals. “Just because you have a press card doesn’t mean you’re 
a journalist,” Kalin said.

In December, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to 
Protect Journalists, wrote to Erdogan to ask to him to stop citing 
C.P.J.’s annual report as evidence of press freedom in Turkey, 
which Simon called “perverse.” The report, compiled last year, 
confirmed that eight journalists were in jail in Turkey because of 
their work. (No number to be proud of, to be sure; as Simon 
pointed out to Erdogan, it put Turkey “just behind Burma.”) But 
Simon has since said that the report was incomplete, and hampered 
by, among other things, the extreme difficulty of verifying 
arrests in Turkey, and that eight was a starting point, a 
“minimum.” In recent weeks, Simon has sent a team to Turkey to 
review more than a hundred cases to determine the real number of 
journalists in prison. He told me he expects the number to climb 
significantly, probably closer to the figure of ninety-four 
released by the Journalists Union of Turkey. In late December, for 
instance, Simon sent a letter to Erdogan condemning the arrests of 
some thirty journalists in raids around the country. (Most of 
those reporters are still in prison, he said.)

“It’s incredibly cynical of Erdogan to cite C.P.J. as proof of 
press freedom,” Simon said. “Turkey is a highly repressive country.”

Remember, too, that when you start arresting journalists, the 
freedom for those not in jail shrinks, too. One of the journalists 
I interviewed while I was in Turkey was Nuray Mert, a brave and 
outspoken columnist for Milliyet, a daily newspaper. Last year, 
after Erdogan publicly criticized Mert, her public-affairs 
television show was cancelled. Two weeks ago, she told me that her 
editors at Milliyet had fired her.



Letter from Turkey
The Deep State
The Prime Minister is revered as a moderate, but how far will he 
go to stay in power?
by Dexter Filkins March 12, 2012

Not long ago, at a resort in the Turkish town of Kızılcahamam, 
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stood before a gathering of 
leaders of the Justice and Development Party to celebrate both his 
country and himself. Erdoğan, a tall, athletic-looking man of 
fifty-eight, with a receding hairline and a pale mustache, wore a 
blue Western suit and no tie. His wife, Emine, wearing a 
traditional head scarf, looked on from a nearby seat. Erdoğan 
recalled the milestones in Turkey’s remarkable economic and 
geopolitical ascent since 2002, and the rise to power of the A.K. 
Party, as it is known by its Turkish initials. He pointed to the 
doubling of the gross domestic product; the sweeping 
transformation of the Turkish state and society; and the leading 
role that Turkey has come to play in world affairs. “With the A.K. 
Party, the whole world hears Turkey’s words,” Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan (pronounced er-do-wan) spoke with a vehemence that at 
times approached anger. When he came to the European Union, an 
organization that Turkey has aspired to join for forty-nine years, 
he practically shouted into the microphone. Over the past decade, 
he has led an ambitious campaign to remake the Turkish state as 
the Europeans asked him to, overhauling the judicial system and 
expanding the rights of women and minorities, only to find Turkey 
still outside the gates. “Look at their state of affairs,” he said 
of the E.U.’s member states. “They are crumbling! Their currency 
is in disarray!” He gripped the lectern, jabbing the air with his 
forefinger. “Turkey is on its feet—no thanks to them but to its 
own people!” He flashed a sharp, joyless grin suggesting both 
triumph and resentment. “Actually, we have already met the E.U. 
criteria. Why haven’t we become a member? you ask. They know very 
well why we haven’t been accepted, and we also know. . . . It 
doesn’t matter anyway.” Erdoğan was referring to the widespread 
belief among Turks that the E.U. has rebuffed Turkey because its 
population, of seventy-four million, is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Erdoğan carried on, mixing his paeans with bitter allusions to 
enemies and slights. The starting point of his speech was the 
state of affairs he inherited nine years ago, when Turkey was in 
an acute economic crisis and under the rule of an entrenched 
secular élite. There was also a deeply personal subtext. As every 
Turk knows, Erdoğan was imprisoned, in 1999, for his Islamist 
leanings. Now, with Turkey’s economy booming, and the opposition 
in disarray, the need for the Old Guard had receded, he 
suggested—and so had the need for dissent. “Dear friends, to be 
one, to be together, to walk together toward the same future is 
the biggest strength of our people,” he said. “For this reason, 
the first priority should be to eliminate those who do not want 
Turkey to grow, develop, and advance. Everyone should be at 
ease—we will not let anyone disturb this harmony.”

When Erdoğan and his comrades in the A.K. Party came to power, 
there were widespread concerns that, as ardent Islamists, they 
were intent on foisting a religious regime on secular Turkey. 
Erdoğan, for his part, feared the resistance of what is commonly 
referred to as derin devlet, the “deep state.” The deep state is a 
presumed clandestine network of military officers and their 
civilian allies who, for decades, suppressed and sometimes 
murdered dissidents, Communists, reporters, Islamists, Christian 
missionaries, and members of minority groups—anyone thought to 
pose a threat to the secular order, established in 1923 by Mustafa 
Kemal, or Atatürk. The deep state, historians say, has functioned 
as a kind of shadow government, disseminating propaganda to whip 
up public fear or destabilizing civilian governments not to its 

Friends and colleagues say Erdoğan worried that the deep state 
would never allow him to govern. But, to the surprise of many, he 
has pulled Turkey closer to the West, opening up the economy and 
becoming a crucial go-between for the West with Palestine, Iran, 
and Syria. He has called on the Assad government, in Damascus, to 
step down, and has tried to help build a bridge between the West 
and Tehran in the current nuclear standoff. In the eyes of 
American and European leaders, Erdoğan has fashioned Turkey into 
an indispensable Islamic democracy, offering a potential example 
for Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria.

Erdoğan has even dared to surprise his countrymen by reassessing 
painful chapters in Turkish history. In November, he told an 
audience of A.K. Party faithful about the massacre, in the 
nineteen-thirties, of more than thirteen thousand Alevis, members 
of a Shiite sect. “I am apologizing,” Erdoğan said, at one point 
holding up a sheaf of presumably damning documents. The moment 
encapsulated his attempt to force Turkey to confront its horrific 
record of persecuting its ethnic and religious minorities, 
including Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians, more than a million and a 
half of whom were massacred in the early twentieth century.

But Erdoğan’s rule has another, darker side, which the West seems 
intent on ignoring: an increasingly harsh campaign to crush 
domestic opposition. In the past five years, more than seven 
hundred people have been arrested, including generals, admirals, 
members of parliament, newspaper editors and other journalists, 
owners of television networks, directors of charitable 
organizations, and university officials. Some fifteen per cent of 
the active admirals and generals in the Turkish armed forces are 
now on trial for conspiring to overthrow the government.

The American response to this intensifying repression has been 
tepid. President Barack Obama has developed a close relationship 
with Erdoğan, whom he regards as a dynamic and democratically 
minded leader. A White House official told me that Obama has 
regularly voiced his concerns about the treatment of religious and 
ethnic minorities. On the rare occasion that an American official 
has made his criticisms public, Erdoğan has easily dismissed them. 
Last year, the American Ambassador, Frank Ricciardone, raised the 
issue of detained journalists. Erdoğan mocked Ricciardone, a 
veteran diplomat and a Turkish speaker, as “a rookie ambassador.”


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