[Marxism] [SUSPICIOUS MESSAGE] Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 18 08:08:40 MST 2016
NY Times, Nov. 18 2016
Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists
By ROD NORDLAND
ISTANBUL — A prominent columnist wrote recently about how President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey hates cigarettes so much that he
confiscates packs from his followers, lecturing them on the evils of
The columnist, Kadri Gursel, then urged his readers to protest the
president’s anti-democratic ways by lighting a cigarette and not putting
For that, Mr. Gursel was arrested on terrorism charges and is being held
in pretrial detention, one of 120 journalists who have been jailed in
Turkey’s crackdown on the news media since a failed coup attempt in
July. There, he has the company of 10 colleagues from his newspaper,
Cumhuriyet, the country’s last major independent publication. Among them
are its editor and the paper’s chief executive, arrested as he stepped
off a flight to Istanbul last Friday.
Turkey now has handily outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer
of journalists, according to figures compiled by the Committee to
The jailings are the most obvious example of an effort to muzzle not
just the free press, but free speech generally. More than 3,000 Turks
have faced charges of insulting the president, including a former Miss
Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, who posted on Instagram a satirical rewording
of the country’s national anthem as if Mr. Erdogan were singing:
I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond
I follow state bids, take my bribe and live.
She was sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended on the condition
that she not repeat any offensive remarks.
The government and its supporters are behind a wave of demands to
Twitter to remove offending posts, more than all other countries in the
world put together, according to Twitter’s Transparency Report. (Of
20,000 Twitter accounts affected worldwide this year, 15,000 were Turkish.)
Several journalists — including Mr. Gursel, whose column was published
three days before the coup attempt — have been retroactively accused of
“subliminal” messaging in support of the July uprising.
Even more risky now is anything viewed as support for the outlawed
Kurdish nationalist party, the PKK. Some have been attacked for calling
members of the group “militants,” rather than “terrorists.” Others are
in jail for advocating a resumption of the collapsed peace process with
the Kurdish guerrillas — although few here dare use the word “guerrilla.”
Failing to mention how many people were killed in the attempted coup, in
any article about it, is also considered proof of terrorist sympathies.
Others have been convicted of terrorism charges for reporting on a 2015
scandal in which Mr. Erdogan’s government was accused of supplying
weapons to the Islamic State, which it is now fighting in Syria. One of
those is Cumhuriyet’s former editor in chief, Can Dundar, who was free
on appeal when he announced in August that he was not returning from a
trip to Germany, saying he could not expect a fair trial in the wake of
the coup attempt.
In addition to the jailings here, some 150 news outlets have been
shuttered, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises, according to
Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative for Reporters Without
Borders. But probably the most corrosive long-term effect of the
crackdown has been a highly effective government push for businessmen
who are loyal to it to take over ownership of many of the remaining
outlets, turning them into avid cheerleaders for Mr. Erdogan and his
“What’s left, they are all basically Pravda,” said Gulsin Harman, who
left her job as a foreign editor at Milliyet, a once independent
newspaper that is now owned by an Erdogan crony.
“There is no more critical journalism, 90 percent of the free press is
destroyed directly or indirectly,” Mr. Onderoglu said. “Investigative
journalism is considered treason. Journalism has been stolen by the
Asked for comment, a senior government official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity in line with official policy, maintained that the
journalists in jail in Turkey were there for criminal and terrorist
offenses, not for their journalism. He also said there remained many
publications in Turkey that were critical of the government.
There have been press crackdowns in Turkey before, especially during
periods of military rule, and even Mr. Erdogan and his government have
used press laws and intimidation against journalists on a large scale
since 2012. But the sweeping emergency powers granted to Mr. Erdogan
after the failed military coup against him, by supporters of the exiled
Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, have greatly accelerated the crackdown.
“Never has there been such a dark period as this,” said Ayse Yildirim, a
Cumhuriyet columnist, who found out by accident that criminal charges
had been lodged against her for reporting on a Kurdish baby killed by a
police bullet at a protest.
In addition to Mr. Dundar and the 11 Cumhuriyet staff members in jail,
the paper’s employees are fending off an estimated 100 other criminal
cases against them on a variety of charges, such as offending
Turkishness, the president or local officials; terrorism; and membership
in the PKK.
“Now even publishing a not-nice picture of Erdogan would be trouble,”
said one prominent journalist, who spoke only on condition of anonymity
because she feared she would be arrested, as many of her colleagues have
been. “Now we even have ministers calling us and saying, ‘Why did you
run that picture of me? I don’t like the way it looks,’ ” she said.
Some of the most virulent attacks on independent-minded journalists have
come from journalists in the pro-Erdogan press who are known by their
colleagues as “hit men.” First they attack the target by name, then
personally lobby with intimidated media owners or the government to have
the person fired or jailed.
The most notorious — and effective — of such hit men is a television
commentator and social media activist named Cem Kucuk, a nationalist who
many journalists say is really a government operative. When a New York
Times journalist telephoned to arrange an interview with him, his
colleagues said he could more easily be reached at the president’s office.
Mr. Kucuk laughed about that comment, saying, “No, no, I’m very close to
Erdogan.” He denied he was a presidential employee, but made no
apologies for advocating the jailing of journalists he views as
“traitors” and supporters of terrorists.
“I don’t care what they call me,” he said. “In all of Turkey, people
like me.” As for the spectacle of so many Turkish journalists behind
bars, he said, “They deserve it.”
He said that Western countries had also jailed journalists, citing
examples like the former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, jailed
for refusing to reveal a source, and employees of the British tabloid
News of the World, jailed for telephone hacking and the bribery of
Recently, a wiretap of a phone call between Mr. Erdogan and Erdogan
Demiroren, the owner of the Milliyet newspaper, was posted on YouTube.
In it, Mr. Demiroren is heard apologizing for the paper’s publication of
leaked minutes of a secret meeting between Kurdish leaders who were
discussing peace negotiations that have since been abandoned.
Mr. Demiroren says to the president, “Did I upset you, boss?” As Mr.
Erdogan berates him, the paper’s owner begins weeping as he apologizes
and promises to find out who leaked the documents to his paper. Mr.
Erdogan denounces “this disgraceful, dishonest, vile man who puts a
headline and wants to sabotage this process.” No one has challenged the
There have been efforts at solidarity among some journalists. When the
Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem was under attack, prominent journalists from
many other publications took turns guest editing it, one each day. A
hundred did so, and 50 of them were hit with criminal charges, accused
of various terrorism offenses for what the paper published the next day.
Mr. Kucuk said it would not be necessary for Turkey’s remaining big
newspapers to be shut down, as so many other outlets have been, because
they had been brought to heel. The foundation that owns Cumhuriyet, he
predicted, would soon be taken over by a group of hard-liners more
friendly to the president.
“I can foresee things,” he said. “In the last three years, I am the only
journalist whose writings became the truth.”
The other surviving major daily papers are widely seen as beginning to
pull their punches under immense pressure, including Milliyet and also
Hurriyet, the country’s most distinguished daily, which the government
hit with a huge tax fine in 2009 and which has paid hundreds of millions
of dollars toward it since then.
In an email, Hurriyet’s editor in chief, Sedat Ergin, insisted that the
paper has maintained its editorial integrity. “Hurriyet will continue to
honor its commitment to independent journalism despite all the hardships
this might entail,” he said.
But Mr. Kucuk, meanwhile, is reveling in the influence that he suggests
his closeness to the president offers him.
“In the media now, it’s me and some of my friends like me, we managed to
prevail over them,” Mr. Kucuk said. “For example, now I have the power
to make Hurriyet do what I want it to do. Now, we are ruling the
country, we are ruling the people.”
More information about the Marxism