The detainment of the journalists
Since the night of July 15, when Turkey was hit by a bloody coup attempt, I have sided with the government, for which I normally have many criticisms. For whatever its wrongdoings are, Turkey’s government is a popularly elected and, thus, legitimate authority. The putschists, on the other hand, not only lacked the slightest legitimacy, they also had no respect for innocent human lives as they proved by shooting civilians in the chest or crushing them with tanks.
Moreover, I have also supported the right of the Turkish government to go after the putschists with rigor under the rules of the state of emergency. Like the government, I have also seen the covert members of the Gülen community in the state as the prime suspects. Hence I called for the United States government to extradite Fethullah Gülen to Turkey, based on evidence pointing to him and with the condition of a fair trial. I even argued that a process of “de-Gülenification” of strategic state institutions (call it a “purge”) is now a legitimate course for the state to protect itself.
I still stand by these arguments. But there is another aspect of the ongoing anti-coup drive on Turkey which is terribly worrying: that it could get out of hand, by turning into a mindless witch hunt and even a “counter-coup” in itself.
The first worrying sign of this threat was the mistreatment of the detained soldiers, as warned by Amnesty International, and supported by a photo of one of the detained putschist officers who seemed to have been badly beaten. Such mistreatment, let alone torture, cannot be justified or trivialized. It is a major concern.
The second worrying sign is the detention of more than 40 Turkish journalists, most of whose common denominator is to have worked in the pro-Gülen daily Zaman, as editors or columnists. They include very famous names such as the secular liberal Şahin Alpay, the center-rightist Nazlı Ilıcak, the Islamist (yet neither Erdoğanist nor Gülenist) Ali Bulaç, the nationalist Mümtaz’er Türköne, and even the 80-year-old philosopher and poet Hilmi Yavuz.
This, without doubt, is unacceptable. These people just shared their ideas, or professed their profession, in a newspaper operated by the Gülen community. This does not mean that they were members of the community (which is not a crime either), or knew about its dark, illegal side that seems to have orchestrated the coup. Lately, the pro-Gülen media had become one of the few remaining non-pro-Erdoğan zones within the Turkish media, and these people, as Erdoğan critics, had simply found a place there to raise their voice.
At most, prosecutors should have taken the testimonies of these journalists and let them go. As I was writing this piece, some had been detained more than four days. Some were also taken for their first testimony to the prosecutor. If they get released after that, we can take a slight breath. If they are arrested and left in jail for a long time, then we have to worry a lot.
One point: This does not mean that “Erdoğan is using the coup to crack down on all opposition media,” as some may think. Secular, Kemalist and staunchly anti-Erdoğan papers such as Cumhuriyet or Sözcü remain untouched. The target rather seems to be exclusively Gülenist media. But that is still such a large and vague category that can put innocent people in jail for merely being Erdoğan critics. Prosecutors, and the government, must opt for sanity and restraint.