What is freedom good for?

What is freedom good for?

In Turkey, freedom of thought should be explained for its practical benefits rather than for its high philosophical values, because in our society the political tradition that regards “thought” as a “tool” rather than an individual value is very strong. 

Whoever is in power typically wants obedience rather than thought. In the past, the Kemalist government of the single-party era banned the magazine “Kadro” and the newspaper “Akın,” which featured leftist or liberal interpretations of Kemalism.  

Unfortunately the same tendency to ban remains dominant today, despite the fact that the horizons of freedom have grown unusually wide over the past three quarters of a century. 

It is not possible to understand the arrest of journalists from dailies Cumhuriyet and Sözcü, or the fact that they have been in jail for months. I have worked alongside some of those arrested, such as Kadri Gürsel and Murat Sabuncu. 

Other colleagues were professional writers and simply expressed their opinion in media outlets of the Gülen movement, back when they were legal. Several government spokespeople were also frequently seen in these publications. Names such as Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç and Mümtazer Türköne are today in prison. 

Because they expressed oppositional opinions in their articles, prosecutors have attributed to them the “intention” of preparing the groundwork for the coup attempt or assisting the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

Hürriyet columnist Sedat Ergin has written about the concept “read the mind, arrest the journalist.” In the future, when the history of this era is written, that would be a good name for this period.  

Could it be possible to demand life sentences after gathering articles and reports that are disliked by political powers and then “reading the mind” of the journalist, attributing charges such as “assisting an illegal organization, supporting the coup”?

In several Constitutional Court rulings, it is stated that files containing articles and reports cannot be the basis of charges of “membership of a terror network,” “espionage” or “assisting in a coup.” These crimes require other concrete evidence. 

What’s more, according to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) judgment in the previous cases of journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, the arrest of a journalist - regardless of the content of their reports or articles - is a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

In recent years, such violations have been steadily increasing in Turkey. But why is press freedom so important? Should journalists have special privileges? 

The philosophical principle frequently mentioned by the ECHR and the Constitutional Court is that freedom of expression “constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfillment.”   

Let’s ask our consciences whether we want Turkey to be a country with unique individuals, or a country where people have become a herd.  

Academic freedom, the number of scientific publications in citation indexes, technology, welfare, and national power all depend on this. Freedom of the press is thus not a privilege; it is a sign of development. 

So freedom of the media is a tool for the public to form a healthy opinion. 

But of course, in today’s Turkey nobody is arrested because of their journalism. They are all terrorists! In Egypt, journalists are arrested with similar justifications. 

The standard we should strive for is the definition of freedom in universal law. We have been searching for it since the 19th century.