Journalism is not a crime (apart from in Turkey)
Turkey celebrated one of its most meaningful national days on May 19, Youth and Sports Day, marking the 98th anniversary of the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk headed from allied-occupied Istanbul to Samsun on the Black Sea coast in 1919.
However, this year the day was also marked as another example of growing oppression of the independent media in Turkey with the operation staged against daily Sözcü, a critical mass-market newspaper.
Police searched the newspaper’s offices in Istanbul and İzmir as well as the house of its publisher, Burak Akbay, and issued detention warrants for him and online manager Mediha Olgun, finance manager Yonca Kaleli, and İzmir reporter Gökmen Ulu. The four were reported to be investigated over alleged links to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.
They were accused of “being a member of a terror organization,” “committing a crime on behalf of the organization,” “assaulting the president,” and staging an “armed insurgency against the Turkish government.”
The prosecutor’s move also includes confiscation of the newspaper, according to Sözcü’s lawyers, increasing concerns that the prosecution could result in shutting the newspaper down.
The operation against Sözcü follows the arrest of Oğuz Güven, the online manager of daily Cumhuriyet, landing another heavy blow on freedom of the media in Turkey. Güven was arrested simply over the headline of a news report on the car accident that killed chief prosecutor of Denizli two weeks ago. The headline was removed from Cumhuriyet’s website in less than a minute, but that did not stop the launching of a judicial move against Güven. In Turkey, a simple editorial mistake can turn a journalist life into a nightmare.
Sözcü is one of the country’s most critical newspapers and is well-known for its long-standing opposition to the Fethullah Gülen movement, even back in the days when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was a close ally of Gülen. Accusing Sözcü of supporting the Gülen movement and taking part in last year’s coup attempt is ridiculous, even comical.
Sözcü, like all media outlets in Turkey, stood against the coup attempt and supported the crackdown on Gülenists within state institutions. But it also urged the government not to cover up the political branch of the Gülenists, especially within the AKP, through a number of insistent reports.
In his long address to mark the occasion of May 19, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the process that Turkey has been passing through since the AKP first entered office in late 2002 as a “silent revolution.”
However, in a country where more than 150 journalists are behind bars and oppression against freedom of expression, along with other fundamental freedoms, is constantly rising, it is not possible to talk about such a revolution. Rather, Turkey is in the midst of a noisy counter-revolution that deteriorates democratic principles and universal values.
Journalism is not a crime. Those who imprison journalists just because of what have written or reported are the onescommitting the real crime.