"Turkey is the largest prison in the world for journalists," argues Serkan Ince, "especially for Kurdish journalists." A reflection on the loss of freedom of the press in the country he fled.
By Serkan Ince
Knowledge of reality serves man. Manipulation of truth damages citizens and society because they are denied opportunities for change. For people and societies (that want) to be free, independent press / media and free news-gathering are indispensable. Journalists contribute through their supervisory function to the proper functioning of the legislative, executive and judicial powers. They explain the news, outline backgrounds to laws and regulations and provide context for events. Journalists are pillars of the rule of law and social order, they have fundamental value in keeping the system running. The free press is like a compass in society. The state of the press says a lot about the state of a country, its government and its citizens. In Turkey and Turkish Kurdistan, journalism has been silenced with laws and court decisions, obscuring the truth and rendering the compass inoperative.
Chaos and war
The parliamentary elections in June 2015 did not secure a majority for Erdogan's AKP, while the Kurdish HDP won over 13% of the vote. Since then, the Kurds have had to pay for their success and Kurdish phobia is rampant. The AKP and Erdogan have been trying in recent years to regain the power they lost through chaos and war (Gülen movement, Kurds, Syria, etc.). Between 2015 and 2017, Turkish rulers besieged eleven Kurdish cities and killed dozens of civilians. In response to the coup attempt in July 2016, more than 160,000 civilians were arrested and thousands of people were tortured. Currently, around 250,000 civilians are in prison and 140,000 civil servants have been made redundant, including 5,700 academics.
Detention without charges
During the state of emergency from 2016 to 2018, 1,767 organizations were banned, fourteen universities had to close their doors and more than 181,000 passports were withdrawn. Thousands of Kurds who openly expressed their views have been imprisoned, along with the presidents of the Kurdish HDP party. By suspecting and linking every Kurd to the PKK and every “unwanted Turk” to the FETO (the Fettullahist Terrorist Organization), Turkish rulers are using illegal means of detention without charge or conviction.
Writing about this oppression by the Turkish state has become virtually impossible. The state of the press now is the litmus test for rights and freedoms: no medium can safely denounce injustice and illegality. Most newspapers, news programs on radio and TV are wholly or partly under the control of the Turkish government. Erdogan's AKP controls 95% of the news supply. The remaining 5% is also not free. For 680 journalists, their press card was withdrawn in 2019 “for security reasons.” Virtually nothing is left of the Kurdish media. Just an announcement in Kurdish can put a journalist under arrest and in detention. Dozens of Kurdish TV and radio stations, newspaper and magazine editors have closed. Kurds outside Turkey are also not safe from Erdogan's long arm. For example, Rûdaw TV in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, has been accused of “terrorist propaganda.”
According to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries assessed in terms of press freedom. Turkey has the highest number of journalists imprisoned worldwide. According to the International Press Institute IPI, there are 162, according to the Turkish journalists' union Union TGS 139, according to the Independent Journalists Platform P24 146 and, finally, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom in Sweden, 202 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey. 75% of these imprisoned journalists are said to be Kurds suspected or convicted of coup attempt, membership of a terrorist organization or terrorist propaganda. They would not be journalists, but terrorists. By comparison, fewer than 40 journalists were arrested in the dark days following the 1980 military coup.
The state of emergency has been lifted since July 2018, but government-controlled news centers and website blocking continue. The CHP, the second largest party in Turkey, released press freedom figures in January 2020: in 2019, a total of 100 newspapers were banned and 215 TV stations closed. Only 7.7% of the 86,500 journalists are members of a union. Organization is ensures dismissal, arrest or getting cleared out of the way. Last February, two journalists were arrested, twelve journalists were taken into custody, four journalists were sentenced to ten years in prison. Seven TV stations were fined. 2020 proves not be a good year for journalism either.
Erdogan is harassing Putin's Russia and expressing hostility towards the EU and the US. Now that the West is not coming to his aid to stop Assad in the Idlib region of Syria, Erdogan is blackmailing the EU with refugees. After the death of Turkish military personnel in Syria in early March, he opened the border for refugees, which was previously closed under the EU-Turkey agreement. Nine Turkish journalists who reported on the situation on the Turkish-Greek border were arrested in early March, including four Kurdish journalists. Turkish journalists from international news agencies were also detained. Intelligence agencies engage in news manipulation and censorship. Considering this threat to independent media and continued acts of violence against journalists, correspondents can hardly find people who want to talk, consult sources and verify news items.
Anyone who expected that the gathering of news and the distribution of news through the internet and advanced ICT would lead to more freedom should be disappointed. Despite this, technological developments in media countries are moving at lightning speed. Social media, Facebook and Twitter offer opportunities to recapture (press) freedom, with the compass pointing towards democracy.
Photo: © Wikimedia
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