When the police raid a magazine in Turkey

When the police raid a magazine in Turkey

Weekly magazine Nokta (“Point” in Turkish) is one of Turkey’s oldest political magazines. It had published earth-shattering stories about the military’s torture chambers in the 1980s and about the corruption of politicians in the 1990s. In early 2000s it published the “coup diaries” of a top general, only to be closed for eight years subsequently. The magazine came back to life only a couple of months ago, and with an editorial line that is critical of the rule of President Tayyip Erdoğan. 

Nokta hit the spot last Sunday, with a decidedly provocative cover photo-op: President Erdoğan smiling and taking “selfie” with his cell phone, with the funeral of a Turkish soldier passing behind him. This was, apparently, dark humor expressing a thesis that both Nokta and many other voices in the opposition believe: Erdoğan is turning “martyr funerals” into political capital and trying to attract nationalist votes in the upcoming November election. Many of those who believe this thesis also think Erdoğan intentionally re-ignited the war with the PKK, the Kurdish nationalist militia, precisely as part of this evil game.

As I have noted in this column before, I find this view too cynical and conspiratorial. It is true that Erdoğan points to terrorism as a key reason why he needs more political power. (“Give 400 deputies,” as he keeps saying.) But it is too far-fetched to believe that Erdoğan tailors terrorism for this end, by completely overlooking the agenda of the PKK. It is also unfair, in my view, to think “martyr funerals” make Erdoğan and his team happy. 

But of course Nokta has the right to express its views, as everyone else does. Moreover, satire of politicians is a right in every decent democracy, no matter how unfair it may seem to the politicians themselves and their supporters. 

Yet, alas, things do not work like that in Turkey, which is not a decent (liberal) democracy yet. As Nokta magazine was sending its cover to print on Sunday evening, the masters of Ankara were waking up and becoming enraged. At 1 a.m. on Monday, police raided the offices of Nokta and confiscated all printed copies. Other policemen sought out other Nokta copies and confiscated them en route to newspaper booths around the country. The magazine’s readers who went out to buy their copies on that morning therefore found nothing. 

But there was more to come. Nokta editor-in-chief Murat Çapan was arrested. A prosecutor accused him of “insulting the president and making the propaganda of a terrorist organization.” The same prosecutor also asked for him to be tried in custody, which could see Mr. Çapan being put in prison for months if not years. Luckily, the judge in the case released Mr. Çapan, though still he will probably face prosecution. 

This is, no doubt, outrageous and mind-boggling. It shows how Turkey’s increasingly shrinking freedom of the press has fallen to alarming levels. It is even more worrying to see the whole pro-government camp, including the pro-Erdoğan media, cheer on this dangerous course. They happily welcome “traitors” to the nation (i.e., Erdoğan’s adversaries) getting what they deserve. This is the sign not just of mere authoritarianism, where tedious rulers dislike and suppress criticism. Far worse, it is a sign of totalitarianism, where masses are mobilized against the enemies within and the iron hand of the state is hailed by hate-filled fanatics.