They have not been jailed for journalistic work

They have not been jailed for journalistic work

“They have not been jailed for journalistic work.” 

This phrase has been the defense of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) whenever Turkey is criticized for the high number of journalists who have been detained, arrested or convicted in the country.

In the wake of the deadly July 15 failed coup attempt, the same phrase is being used for the journalists being detained and arrested, the majority of whom are from media institutions linked to the Fethullah Gülen movement, whose members orchestrated the coup attempt.

According to a count by Istanbul-based Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), 30 journalists have been arrested as part of the probe into the failed coup, 21 are still in custody and there are detention warrants for a total of 104 journalists (another four journalists from Kurdish media outlets have been arrested since July 15).   

While some of those arrested were only columnists for daily Zaman, shut down with a government decree last week along with daily Taraf and a few others, some were among the names not shy of attacking their colleagues on past occasions. 

Zaman and Taraf ran similar headlines one week after journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were detained in March 2011 as part of the Oda TV case.

Taraf said, “Not arrested due to journalistic work,” while Zaman said “There is evidence that cannot be revealed,” based on remarks from Zekeriya Öz, the then-star prosecutor in the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot cases. 

Other pro-government media rushed to portray Şık and Şener as “terrorists.” 

Police raided Şener’s and Şık’s homes, and the workplace of Şık’s colleagues, searching for the draft of an unpublished book. As a first in Turkey, Şık’s book “Imam’s Army,” which was on the Gülen supporters within the police, was banned before it was published. Şık and Şener spent more than a year under arrest on charges of terrorism.

At the time, prosecutor Öz enjoyed stardom and was even presented an armored official car by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He is now on the run with a detention warrant against him. 

Speaking at a meeting in Strasbourg on April 13, 2011, Erdoğan compared Şık’s book to a bomb. “It is a crime to use a bomb, but it is also a crime to use materials from which a bomb is made. If informed that all materials needed to construct a bomb have been placed in a certain location, wouldn’t the security forces collect these materials?” Erdoğan said.

So, Erdoğan’s perception of journalists and journalism is not a new thing. What is new today is that the guns have turned against those who were once holding them.

There is no doubt that the Gülen movement, enjoying the opportunities provided by the AKP, infiltrated into the police, judiciary and military and orchestrated the July 15 coup attempt. There is no doubt, because what the movement tried to achieve has not been secret for many for over 30 years, but it took Gülen’s followers to act against Erdoğan and the AKP to convince them.

Our colleagues in the Western media are especially surprised by the number of public employees suspended in the wake of the failed coup attempt, and the speed of the operation “as if the lists had been pre-prepared.”

Well, the numbers are huge because the “infiltration” has been ongoing for a long time with the support of successive governments, and the lists were actually not too difficult to come up with, since the AKP knew exactly who was appointed where in the last 14 years with the reference of Gülenists.

But of course detentions, and especially the detention of journalists, is another issue. One major problem is such operations bear the risk of overshadowing the rightful fight against the real actors of the coup plot: Those who opened fire on their own citizens, who bombed parliament and civilians, who planned and ordered the operations. 

Writing columns or stories is not the same thing as using guns against people. One-sided, biased - and often poo r- journalism cannot be a crime punishable by law; it is something that should be punished by the readers. 

And just yesterday, Erdoğan said he felt “sad that I failed to reveal the true face of this traitor organization long before,” and almost all AKP officials regret being “deceived” by Gülenists for a long time. How can they be so sure that the journalists were not deceived but willingly helped the outlawed group?

It is time to repeat what I wrote in a column on July 24, 2014

“The judiciary should neither be a tool of pressure on the society, nor a tool of revenge. We need justice for all, and we need it today.”