The arrests of journalists and other civilians

The arrests of journalists and other civilians

When the state of emergency (OHAL) was declared, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself said it would “absolutely not be used as a practice against democracy, the law and freedoms. On the contrary, it aims to protect and strengthen these values.” 

There were warnings that in the chaos of the aftermath of the coup attempt, all opposition voices would be silenced during OHAL. But Erdoğan stressed that OHAL was a measure only to protect democracy and the rule of law. 

However, we see today that many people are accused, detained and arrested unlawfully. 

Under OHAL, the detention orders for 50 journalists have been issued. Added to those who were already in jail, there are currently more than 100 journalists in prison. 

Most of the journalists are accused of knowingly and willingly aiding terrorism. The evidence given for this is generally what they have shared on social media and the stories they have written. This is flimsy, to say the least.

Demanding the arrest of daily Hürriyet reporter Arda Akın, the prosecutor submitted a couple of his stories and a tweet that he posted saying “this summer would be very warm” and linking to a climate change story printed in daily Sabah. 

In states with the rule of law, arrests require strong suspicion and concrete evidence. But we see in OHAL that a couple of unrelated tweets can cost a person his freedom. 

Is there other evidence about arrested journalists that we do not know about? Well, we know that while prosecutors were demanding the arrest of journalists they told lawyers that they have documents they are not able to share because of a confidentiality order.

That justification caused many of us to feel déjà vu. Once upon a time, the fugitive prosecutor of the Ergenekon case, Zekeriya Öz, said about journalist Ahmet Şık that “there is certain evidence that cannot be disclosed.” People believed him because he was a prosecutor of the state. But in the end, it was understood that there was no evidence whatsoever. Şık ended up being arrested and one year was taken from his life. 

When you add together the arrests of figures such as journalist Murat Aksoy and singer Atilla Taş, the detention of daily Evrensel reporters, and the operations against the Kurdish press, it all creates a view either that the probe against terrorism is not being conducted properly or it is quite biased. 

Arrest warrants are granted to prevent the possibility of the suspect escaping, being involved in another crime, actively supporting a crime or tampering with evidence. If a coup-plotting major is released, he may delete certain private communications or even try to stage another insurrection. But what would a journalist do if he or she is released? Call the chief of general staff? Tamper with evidence? Delete their archives and tweets? All of them have already been recorded, so what if they are deleted? 

The pre-trial arrest of journalists and other civilians who have no means of plotting a new insurrection goes against the main principle of arresting. 

The investigation may well continue. A travel ban abroad or judicial control order may even be imposed, but the arrest of journalists as if they have the power to drag the country into a chaos by restarting another coup process or committing terrorism does not comply with either conscience or the law. 

These people are not coup-plotting members of the military. They are journalists.