Not only bright side of Turkish democracy
On the breakfast news show of the Turkish news channel CNN Turk yesterday morning, two journalists were asked to comment on the judicial probe against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, accusing him of “attempting to influence fair trial” in the courts, because of a statement he delivered.
Bilal Çetin, the seasoned Ankara Bureau Chief of the daily “Vatan” simply said he didn’t want to comment on the subject. “Look what happened to the main opposition party leader because of what he said.” Çetin continued: “They might immediately cuff my hands and put behind bars.”
His TV program partner, the Ankara Bureau Chief of the daily “Hürriyet” - the flagship of the Turkish media – replied to him: “And they do not need a notice to the parliament to send you in.”
This reflects the mood of Turkish media yesterday, when a 16-page newspaper by writers in prison called “Arrested Gazette” was given as a supplement by a number of papers. The last issue of the Arrested Gazette was printed on July 24, 2010, with only 12 pages; showing the unhappy development that there are more journalists and writers in prison since then.
Turkish government members say all of them are accused of terrorism charges, not because of journalism activities. But journalist associations say that in no country with a bad press freedom record, the journalists are tried because of journalism activities. From terrorism to spying, various accusations are made up for them by the prosecutors acting in parallel to political power in those countries.
I talked to Metehan Demir yesterday on the phone and learned of another dimension to the general atmosphere. He told me that a young businessman friend of his had called him up and asked whether to keep a framed picture of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkish Republic on the wall of his office that had stayed there for years; he was afraid that somebody might denounce him to a prosecutor who could send him in prison.
The tension around the trigger; the easy attitude of prosecutors and judges when it comes to arrest the suspects, especially after the arrest of the former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ, that even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he preferred Başbuğ be tried without arrest. No prosecutor has started a probe against him for attempting to influence fair trial because of his criticism of that probe demand yet. But there is no sign of a new draft law regulating the arrest criteria and periods much promised by the government as well; some of the journalists are in prison for three years without any court ruling.
This is ironic, because the very same day another Ankara court has decided to try Kenan Evren, the leader of the military coup on Sept. 12 , 1980; that is going to be the first time a coup leader is going to appear before a court for overthrowing an elected government. That is a clear achievement for Turkish democracy.
On the other hand, there is the atmosphere regarding freedom of expression and press not very much in harmony with developed democracies. In order to highlight the bright side with a clear conscience, the not so bright side of the Turkish democracy has to be highlighted as well.