If you’re a Turkish journalist, take a shower before you go to bed
As I sat down to write, I was still struggling to come to terms with the detention of my colleague Ahmet Şık by Turkish police without any explanation. He was denied his right to speak to his lawyer. Shortly after, state-run Anatolian Agency published a story claiming he was detained on grounds of spreading terror propaganda plus insulting the republic, its judiciary, its military and its police in his tweets.
I was together with Ahmet just hours before his detention at a solidarity event organized by the “I am a journalist” initiative to send greetings for New Year’s to jailed journalists who are barred from even receiving letters. It was heartening to see so many journalists from quite different backgrounds could still come together for a showdown amid the open threats that our profession has been facing in recent years.
When I came home from the event, two separate conversations were echoing in my head. One colleague had said, “These days I take a shower every night before I go to bed so that if I get arrested early in the morning my hair will at least survive the days under detention.” And the other had asked whether publicly underlining our position of rejecting the injustices that are imposed on our colleagues would simply be taken as an open invitation for more arrests from our crowd. Sadly, it did not take very long to prove her concerns.
Regardless of whoever controls it, the habit of the Turkish state to define the limits of journalism has not changed over the decades. Ahmet Şık was jailed as part of the controversial Oda TV case in 2011 for writing an investigative book on Fethullah Gülen’s secret agenda inside the state titled “The Imam’s Army.” Gülenists who were holding the key posts inside the judiciary and police at the time did not have a hard time convincing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that Ahmet was working as part of a plot against the government. Five years later, Turkish police, whose main task since the failed coup of July 15 is to hunt the Gülenists inside the state, rounds up Ahmet Şık who has done nothing but journalism to decipher the dark side of the Gülenists.
What a pleasant way to express gratitude!
In fact, Şık’s detention came a few days after the Turkish Interior Ministry proudly announced that the fight against terrorism was being carried out with determination, with 10,000 people being investigated on suspicion of using social media to support terrorism or insult government officials.
This means that you do not need to be a journalist to face the risk of imprisonment for expressing your views. If you are a social media pro, you really do need to watch out. Nowadays, any criticism you write in terms of the lack of security measures at home or the failure of some government policies in Syria could be interpreted as terror propaganda and before you know it, you might find yourself in the same basket as terror organizations.
And if you are not on social media at all, this does not automatically save you from trouble either. Just remember how the tea maker at daily Cumhuriyet’s office in Istanbul was arrested for insulting the president just because, in a trivial chat, he said that he would not serve the head of state any tea if given the opportunity to do so.
As we are preparing to bid farewell to 2016 with resentment, I fear 2017 has the potential to further eradicate freedom of thought and freedom of expression from the public scene in Turkey. I can only hope that we will still find the courage to fight the uniformity of values that is being imposed upon us with ferocity.