I hope my colleagues will be released

I hope my colleagues will be released

Whoever is giving information to President Tayyip Erdoğan about the Turkish journalists in prison, they are not doing any good neither to him nor the country.

Of course, it is not the president’s work to count who among the arrested journalists, writers and other media employees are holding press cards. The number of jailed journalists is 159, according to the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC). But our president said in recent interviews that only two of them were actually press card holders. 

Well, nine out of the 12 arrested suspects, who have been appearing before the judge in Istanbul since July 24, are press card holders; they have been waiting to appear in court for the past 267 days. They were active journalists, working for the center-left daily Cumhuriyet until the day they got arrested on charges of helping two different terrorist organizations and spying against Turkey. One of those organizations is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is against Cumhuriyet’s left-Kemalist editorial policy, and the other is the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016, defeated military coup attempt.

Kadri Gürsel, Cumhuriyet’s foreign affairs columnist and the head of the Turkish chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI), is accused in the indictment that he had received 112 calls and messages from users of ByLock, an encrypted smartphone application used by members of the Gülenist network and used as evidence that he was linked. Underlining that he did not even reply to the messages with or without the knowledge that they might be ByLock users, he said he could have as a journalist who had criticized Gülen and the PKK throughout his career. “All these charges against me” he said in his defense, “Not only lack intelligence and logic, but they are also out of any standard of law and conscience. These charges only produce injustice.”

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also repeated the words during his meeting with Federica Mogherini, EU foreign and security policy chief, on July 24 that the journalists and writers in prison were there not because of what they had written or said but because of terrorism and espionage. 

It is true that those are what the journalists are accused of under the state of emergency, which was declared by the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government in the wake of the military coup attempt, but those accusations are far from being convincing neither inside nor out of Turkey. If Mogherini said she was against those who asked her to display more severe reaction against Turkey because of what was happening nowadays - including the arrest of human rights activists at a meeting in Istanbul earlier this month - that is probably not because she agreed with the thesis that journalists and human rights activists were spies and terrorists, as the Turkish government says, but that is probably because the EU does not want to be a part of cutting relations with Turkey because of common strategic interests and because it seems the EU does not want to antagonize relations with Turkey in order not to get involved in the Turkish domestic scene more. 

If the EU wanted to get involved on behalf of a better working democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, they would have opened the negotiation chapters 23 and 24 on judiciary and freedoms, wouldn’t they?

Journalists are not immune of being tried in courts, if the accusations are based on solid evidence. And journalists should not be tried – unless there is a murder or similar heavy crime involved - under arrest. The release of the journalists by the courts will not only free our colleagues but also be a relief for people believing in pluralistic democracy and the rule of law in and outside Turkey.

I hope my colleagues will be released by the court as soon as possible.