The crime of reporting the president’s vacation
It was May 7, 2004, and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek was at the podium in parliament, saying: “These amendments are a milestone in the history of the Republic of Turkey. They will hopefully further institutionalize our democracy, and our rights and freedoms will reach a more advanced point with these amendments.”
The head of the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee, Professor Burhan Kuzu, said from the same podium, “The package looks small but there are truly important matters in it.”
What Çiçek called a “milestone” and what Kuzu said was “small but important” was the package that changed, for the ninth time, the 1982 Constitution. The package abolished the State Security Courts (DGM) and the death penalty and became the key that helped crack open the door for full membership talks with the European Union.
In the seventh article of the package, this was added to the last paragraph of Article 90 of the 1982 Constitution: “In case of conflicts between international agreements duly put into effect regarding basic rights and freedoms and domestic laws, due to different provisions on the same issue, the provisions of international treaties shall prevail.”
In other words, the international agreements signed by Turkey were deemed superior to domestic law. For instance, European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) practices became Turkish judicial practices.
In his speech, Çiçek thanked all the political parties that had deputies in the parliament and independent deputies because the amendments were passed almost unanimously.
It has been 13 years and 23 days since. Article 90 is still valid in Turkey. In other words, Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights that guarantees freedoms of thought and expression and hundreds of practices of the ECHR on this matter are all valid.
According to that practice, any measure against freedom of the press (a printed news story or comment) should be necessary and proportional to the legitimate aim.
When a journalist writes a story, they should be able to foresee what might happen to them (Öztürk/Turkey decision).
Within the framework of Article 10, everybody should have the right to express themselves, to research and gather information and news regardless of their source and the right to disclose them (Declaration of the Cabinet 1982 on Freedom of Thought and Reporting).
Despite this, in the same Turkey, dozens of journalists are currently in prison due to the stories they have reported or due to the articles they have written.
In the most recent incident, daily Sözcü reporter Gökmen Ulu and Chief Web Editor Mediha Olgun were arrested on grounds that can be summarized as “Indicating the president’s location to the putschist traitors by reporting the venue in which he was vacationing.”
In his statement to the judge, Ulu explained how he researched and made the story in detail.
Columnist Ahmet Hakan, while he was questioning the arrest decision, rightfully wrote about “the goofy putschists who learned the whereabouts of the president from Sözcü.”
Let us search for answers to this question: If Gökmen Ulu was searching for the president’s location on behalf of the putschists, wouldn’t he have directly informed the putschists of the venue instead of making a story out of it?
There is not even a suggestion among the police, prosecutor’s office and judge that there was any communication between Ulu and the putschists.
I have been a reporter, news editor and Ankara representative for newspapers for years. Everywhere in the world, presidents are people who reporters follow every moment. If you go on Google, you will find the vacation stories of several presidents both from Turkey and around the world. We have colleagues who would follow late President Turgut Özal and former CHP Chair Deniz Baykal while they were vacation and swim with them or even interview them while in the sea.
Both Turkey’s laws and ECHR statutes contain no clauses that criminalize reporting the vacation plans of the president.
I wonder, what do Çiçek and Kuzu, the architects of that “milestone” from May 7, 2004, think of this?