Journalist arrests from the model of democracy

Journalist arrests from the model of democracy

Last week’s detention of 49 journalists and media workers and, immediately afterwards, the arrests of 36 members of the press from the group on Dec. 24 is probably the most comprehensive arrest incident targeting the media ever to occur in Turkey.

Let’s say it right now at the beginning: It is an extraordinary situation that these colleagues of ours are arrested and raids are conducted at their homes and newspaper offices; it is a practice unprecedented in democracies. The recent wave has put a dark stain on media freedom in Turkey. 

Journalists in the backyard 

The majority of the journalists arrested consist of those working for Dicle news agency and daily Özgür Gündem, which broadcast and publish in line with the Kurdish political movement and, within this framework, closely monitor and report developments related to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 
Apart from the “Kurdish media,” reporters have also been arrested from leftist daily BirGün and mainstream daily Vatan. This wave of arrests constitutes the last stage of the operations against the alleged urban wing of the PKK, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which has been continuing since last autumn. 

The operations first targeted some administrative staff from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), then some academics, and then a large group of lawyers defending suspects in the BDP and KCK cases were arrested. The last move has put journalists in jail. 

The fact that KCK operations are proceeding in categories demonstrates the existence of an “integrated” road map, which has been well calculated and designed and is being executed step by step. And it seems as if the harsh statements of Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin yesterday contained hints of next steps. Şahin said “the BDP was an extension of the PKK” and that “their real faces will be revealed,” referring to “the backyard of terror.” When defining the backyard, the interior minister counted, without giving names, artists, poets, university departments, associations and nongovernmental organizations. It is possible to say the last arrest wave will block, to a great extent, the communication channels of the Kurdish political movement with its grassroots. 

From KCK to private life 

Freedom of the media encompasses the right to be informed and the right to report this information to society. As defense lawyers emphasize, the highly distressing factor during the interrogations is that a large portion of the questions asked to the suspects focused on normal journalist activities directly within the context of the right to be informed. 

Meanwhile, another scary dimension of the operation is that interrogations were not limited to KCK and reporting activities, but records directly from a suspect’s private life were used and information about these was demanded. An interrogation launched on anti-terror grounds transformed into the interrogation of private life is a subject the interior and justice ministries should explain to the public. 
The really challenging part of the topic is this: The Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government recently made commitments both to the Council of Europe and European Union for legal improvements to overcome the problems related to freedom of the media in Turkey, and these promises led to optimistic expectations. 

What will happen to pledges made to Europe? 

Within this framework, a technical study was scheduled to start in January with the Council of Europe. While this commitment caused a new avenue of “accreditation” to be opened to the government in the Western world, the latest developments resulting in a spike in the number of arrested journalists will interrupt optimistic expectations. 

Problems in the field of freedom of expression and the growing file of arrested journalists have become almost the most important current thorny problem in Turkey’s relations with the Western world. As a result, 36 more members of the press have been added to the heated debates on how to calculate the number of arrested journalists. In this case, the situation of arrested journalists in Turkey has started to involve the field of statistics, another indication of the gravity of the situation relating to press freedom. 

Obviously, the AK Parti government feels like it has a totally free hand thinking the Western world will not cause problems in terms of controversial domestic practices because of the need they have for Turkey as a result of the Arab Spring and the crisis in Syria. 

In the end, will a country that jails 36 journalists in one day be a model of inspiration for the Arab Spring? 

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared Dec 27. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.