Turkish journalists now under new pressure

Turkish journalists now under new pressure

It was good to see writer Mehmet Altan released two days after the June 24 elections, after spending nearly two years in prison, despite being sentenced to life imprisonment due to his alleged involvement in the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey. There are still some 146 journalists, writers and media employees in jails, but his release ignited hopes that perhaps the atmosphere could be calmer after the elections, especially also when political activist Celalettin Can was released on the same day.

But again, on the same day, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the main ally of President Tayyip Erdoğan in the elections, gave advertisements in the form of expressing his gratitude to 59 journalists for their “efforts to undermine” the MHP. Turkey’s Journalists Association (TGC) denounced the move as a target against journalists and urged the government to take precautions to protect the lives of the journalists and columnists mentioned in what they called a “blacklist.”

There have been ways to put media employees under pressure in Turkey, but this is unprecedented.

On June 29, one of most infamous figures of the crime world in Turkey, Alaattin Çakıcı, threatened six columnists and the owner of the daily Karar by issuing an open letter calling on “those who love” him to “punish” them. Çakıcı accused them of supporting the “evil alliance” (referring to the one against Erdoğan and Bahçeli in the polls) and serving for the U.S. and FETÖ (the illegal network of a U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt). That was because they called his amnesty demands “insolent.” Çakıcı mentioned the names of Mehmet Aydın, the owner of the paper, and journalists and columnists İbrahim Kiras, Hakan Albayrak, Etyen Mahçupyan, Akif Beki, Gürbüz Özaltınlı and Ali Bayramoğlu.

Çakıcı is supposed to be in prison, but he is currently in hospital due to health conditions. When he was arrested in Nice, France in August 1998, he had already been sentenced to more than three years in jail for running a criminal organization—mainly on accusations of extorting “protection money” from business owners. He was on the run for giving orders to kill his former wife, Uğur Kılıç, the daughter of another underworld leader, Dündar Kılıç. After his escape from custody, Çakıcı was once again arrested in Graz, Austria in 2004 in connection to two additional crimes: Giving orders in 1996 to kill rival gang leader Tevfik Ağansoy and in 2000 for raiding the Karagümrük football club, which was believed to be run by a rival gang called the “Ergin Brothers.” On top of his jail time, Çakıcı was also sentenced to more than three years in jail in 2016 for “insulting” President Erdoğan and the justice minister and the chief prosecutor of the time.

Almost a month before the elections, Bahçeli had suggested that Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government should consider an amnesty, not for terrorists, convicts and rapists but for the “victims of bad fortune,” giving two names specifically, one of them being Çakıcı and the other being another crime leader, Kürşat Yılmaz, whom he praised as his “brothers” who love the country.

Erdoğan had turned down the offer, receiving reactions from some in the society. Karar, with its conservative-democrat line, was one of the media outlets to have objected to the amnesty offer most.

On June 29, there have been a number of official complaints filed to prosecutors’ offices for legal action to be taken against Çakıcı’s threat.

Turkish journalists are now facing a type of threat unseen before.

Updated on June 30, 07.22 a.m. - At midnight hours Ankara prosecutors office launched a probe against Çakıcı, because of threathening people with death and causing public disturbance using the frightening power of an organization.

Prosecutor launches probe into notorious mafia leader over threats against journalists
Prosecutor launches probe into notorious mafia leader over threats against journalists

Mehmet Altan, Celalettin Can, Karar newspaper