Imprisonment of Journalists an Affront to Turkey’s Democracy

Today over 90 journalists are held in Turkish prisons, mostly on trumped-up charges of terrorism because of their sympathy with the country’s Kurdish minority. This violation of a journalist’s freedom of expression is a blight on Turkey’s international reputation, argues Mehmet Ali Birand, and does more harm than good for the AKP government and Turkish democracy in general.

al-monitor Journalists and their supporters gather outside the Justice Palace to protest against the detention of journalists in Istanbul 26/12/2011. Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

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Jan 12, 2012

If you believe in democracy, then [you agree that] freedom of the press is its most irrevocable [tenet]. The only exception would be [if the press were to] blatantly support terror, murders and killings, or if it incited armed uprising… If you are not participating in terror, you [should be able to] write and argue anything. Instead, [in Turkey] we have about 90 journalists in prison today. None of them were arrested on charges of terrorism. Most have been charged with obscure crimes such as sympathizing with a terrorist organization, and many remain in prison because their trials are ongoing. They were not involved in terrorism - they only defended their opinions. [State] prosecutors have hundreds of pending investigations based on similar charges.

This sad spectacle is a stain on our country. Criticisms and pressure from the European Union and the United States are mounting by the day. Every Western delegation that visits Turkey asks about [the imprisonment of its journalists].

In the Western media, Turkey is treated in a fashion similar to China and Russia. Like China, it is a a wealthy country with a booming economy, but it does not care about human rights. [Turkey’s] strict method of governing has resulted in comparisons to Putin’s Russia.

Do we deserve this? No.

So why doesn’t the government act? Why is the AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party] shooting itself in the foot?

During a recent crackdown on the [Union of Communities of Kurdistan, or KCK, a Kurdish confederate organization founded by Abdullah Ocalan,] 35 journalists were arrested. [The journalists] voiced their grievances in an public letter, but nobody cared. They said, ”we are accused of terrorism but [every piece of] evidence they have come up with relates to journalism.” This is a fact. The evidence against them lies within the [stories] they wrote and the photos they took. None [of them] has carried a gun. No one pulled a trigger. They only expressed their opinions.

Yes, they have taken a side in the Kurdish question. Yes, they have voiced views we do not agree with. So what? They were doing their jobs - something we and our laws cannot comprehend.

Now we defend ourselves by saying that these are not journalists, but rather terrorists, and that the number of journalists in prison is therefore no more than eight or ten.

Of course nobody believes us. We look pathetic.

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