Journalists in prison, nothing abnormal in Turkey

Journalists in prison, nothing abnormal in Turkey

Is there anything abnormal about a court setting free those criminals who attacked the daily Hürriyet printing house last year? Definitely not. They were below 18 and it was nothing but normal to expect a court to convert whatever penalty a juvenile might have deserved to a fine. Such an attitude might have been applauded. The issue is not that, unfortunately. It reflects a sad situation. Like in the honor crimes decided by the “family council,” the crime was committed by juveniles knowing that juveniles would enjoy penalty reductions in court. Instead of trying to sentence a couple of juveniles, the court must have tried to sentence those who masterminded not only the attack against the printing works but also the Hürriyet headquarters in Istanbul. There is indeed an address at hand even, the Youth and Sports Ministry, as one of the agitators of those attacks had been serving as its deputy minister.

The Turkish media world and everyone else in the country that cared for a free society, democratic rights and liberties were shocked to see the arrest by a court on Monday of journalists Ahmet Nesin, Erol Önderoğlu and prominent academic Sebnem Korur Fincancı on charges of disseminating “terrorist propaganda.” What was their crime? They demonstrated solidarity with an embattled newspaper by participating in a campaign of solidarity by each assuming for one day a symbolic “acting editor-in-chief” position with the paper. Önderoğlu has been the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders.

Was the arrest decision by the court a surprise? Unfortunately not. The number of journalists behind bars in Turkey reached 40 with this latest spree and with an additional effort later in the day exceeded 40 with the detention of Hürriyet’s New York representative, Razi Canikligil, at Istanbul Atatürk Airport’s passport control upon his return to Turkey. In Turkey there is a much accustomed saying, “May God bless 41 times.” Now once again the number of journalists in prison has temporarily reached 41, as Canikligil was released by the court on Tuesday.

Attacking the premises of media organizations and getting away with it; imprisoning journalists because they demonstrated solidarity with a newspaper which has been under constant attack, particularly since the November 2015 elections; taking in a journalist on his arrival on grounds of a past detention decision – which was long lifted but somehow neglected to be deleted – imposed because of an alleged tweet against the Turkish Union of Chambers chief… If all these sound normal, Turkey is a normal country.

Indeed, arresting journalists in Turkey has become something just normal in this country. Is that not sickening? Those who claim to be effectively ruling the country must be very happy with their outstanding performance if what the country has been living through corresponds to the notion of democracy.

All these demonstrate a systematic effort aimed at sending shock waves across the nation and silencing an entire country compelled to live under a thick blanket of fear. Turkey deserves better than what we have been subjected to.

Farewell to a friend

We laid to rest a very dear friend, Metin Yalman, yesterday. It was not easy at all but under three presidents he served as press advisor and presidential spokesman. Those were not easy times. He was not just a press advisor to the president, but also an elder brother who actively participated in social responsibility events. For many years he was also an executive board member of the Journalists Association.

He was a kind gentleman trying to avoid harm to anyone and even during very difficult times making sure to treat all journalists on the basis of justice and equality. Thus, often we were at odds with him while events were developing but after a while we appreciated his “equal closeness” to all of us.

It was he who, when I slipped, fell and suffered a serious injury to my left hand and underwent an operation in Davos in 1993, was at my bedside for over three hours. It was again he who offered – I rejected – his place on the presidential jet on the way back home. He was such a gentle elder friend.

He was suffering for a long time with illnesses. I wish his wife, daughter and son the strength and patience to embrace the pain of his absence. We shall all miss him greatly.

As is said, nothing does. May God rest Metin Yalman in peace until we meet again.