The state of arrested journalists and writers in Turkey

The state of arrested journalists and writers in Turkey

On a live TV show on Oct. 22, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said his government was preparing for a new decree in the force of law (KHK) in order to return those dismissed from their public jobs “by mistake” in the wake of the probes after the military coup attempt in Turkey on July 15.

It is likely that following the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) conference in Afyon over the weekend, the issue could be on the agenda of the cabinet today on Oct. 24.

This is a positive step for acknowledging and correcting the mistakes in probes. Mass dismissals and arrests were indeed among the major criticisms of the probes to investigate the bloody coup attempt in which 242 people were killed by the plotters.

Another major topic of criticism of the period following the coup attempt is the state of arrested journalists and writers. 

On Oct. 18, at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the biggest in the world, a letter from novelist Aslı Erdoğan was read out. Today is the 67th day of her arrest. She is not indicted yet, so nobody knows what the accusations are, but they probably have nothing to do with the coup attempt.

The government (also the opposition) and the prosecutors have been accusing Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher living in the United States, and his secret network of being behind the plot. Aslı Erdoğan is an internationally renowned novelist writing columns for daily Özgür Gündem, which was closed down after July 15 as part of the state of emergency because of its publications in praise of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has committed acts of terror.

Two senior journalists, Lale Kemal and Nuriye (Akman) Ural were released on Oct. 12; they were writing for Zaman, the flagship of the pro-Gülen media, and were arrested after July 15. But also senior journalists and columnists like Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Mustafa Ünal are in the 86th day of arrest today; Nazlı Ilıcak has been there for 87. 

Necmiye Alpay, a well-respected linguist and a renowned socialist, is in the 55th day of arrest today – probably only because she stood with Özgür Gündem out of solidarity for freedom of expression. Columnist Mehmet Altan and novelist-columnist Ahmet Altan are in their 33rd and 32nd days in jail.

As of today, there are 130 journalists, writers, media professionals and owners in jail. Eighteen of them were convicted previously, mostly on charges of making propaganda on behalf of a terror organization, i.e., the PKK. Some of them were arrested in the wake of the seizure of pro-Gülen media companies in March 2016 by the courts – for making propaganda for the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ)” and working as a source of financing for it. The rest were arrested after the July 15 coup attempt.

To be a journalist doesn’t make any one exempt from being tried, like anyone else, if there is evidence of a crime. Especially when it comes to direct or indirect involvement with a bloody coup attempt, those involved should be tried before independent courts, journalist or not. It is not right, on the other hand, to arrest journalists and writers without any solid evidence, just because of what they wrote and said, while also prolonging the trial period. This situation has started to cast a shadow on coup investigations, which should be carried out with determination and care.

Since the government is preparing to take steps to correct mistakes regarding the mass dismissals of public servants, the legal possibilities to correct the state of arrested journalists and writers, for example to release and try them – in the event of a lack of solid evidence – should be examined too.