Turkey: Listening to the Silence

The situation for journalists in Turkey is dire. The country dropped six places in the World’s Press Freedom Index last year. It’s now ranked 154th out of 179 countries.

Ercan Ipekçi, the president of the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TJU), stated: “The government not only tries to silence dissenting voices, conducting robust operations to break the opposition media, whether pro-Kurdish, left-wing or nationalist, but also intends to put pressure on journalists from ‘mainstream’ media, who do not dare step out of line.

“It is very difficult for our union to organise solidarity with imprisoned journalists: those who are not in prison are afraid of being fired, as was the case with a number of chief editors following the critical coverage of the crackdown at Gezi Park in Istanbul.”

Since the unrest in May with the Gezi Park incident, the TJU has estimated that in the six weeks following at least “seventy-two journalists had been fired or forced to take leave or…[have] resigned.” The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey is now the “world’s worst jailer” for journalists last year.
Freedom of expression should be important, especially in a country which is in the process of applying to the EU. So how can the Turkish government expect to be respected with such clear oppression of the basic human right to information?

One ongoing trial is the Group of Communities of Kurdistan (KCK) ‘Press Wing’ trial. The KCK is an organisation allegedly affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But there is not real proof of this affiliation.

The PKK has been leading an armed struggle against the government since 1984 and is banned for being a terrorist organisation. In the ‘Press Wing’ trial 44 journalists have been accused of membership in the organisation. One journalist involved in the trial is Zeyneb Ceren Kuray. She was an investigative journalist, columnist for BirGun, and correspondent for Fırat News Agency prior to her arrest in December 2011.

She is known for dealing with controversial issues including political corruption, poor working conditions and the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish army. She is charged with membership to an armed organisation and membership to a terrorist organisation.

The indictment against her, however, shows no proper material evidence. Their evidence is limited to phone calls to other journalists, articles she wrote on the alleged sexual harassment of female Turkish Airline employees, and an investigative piece on the use of chemical weapons used by the Turkish army against PKK fighters.

How can the government discriminate against someone without any substantive information? Surely an article about alleged sexual harassment is not enough to persecute someone, especially when their job is to uncover the truth.

“The truth is that they have nothing against me,” Kuray said, “They just accuse me of doing my work, of showing the truths they intended to hide.”
Kuray is an example of one of the countless journalists facing this kind of oppression. Her actions reflect their continued fight as she continues to write inside and outside of prison, “The authorities know that I will never be silent.”

She was released on April 26th last year, and her most recent trial hearing was the September 25th. Of the 46 journalists and media workers arrested in December 2011 22 are still in custody.

All are accused of terrorism. PEN International calls for “the immediate release of all 22 detained journalists pending completion of their trial, and the dropping of all charges against anyone accused of involvement in the KCK press wing which relate solely to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.”

The European Federation for Journalists likewise demands for the abolition of anti-terrorism laws when misused by the Turkish government to criminalise freedom of expression.

Despite the bleakness of the current situation there is hope for Turkey.  Journalists continue to fight against the oppression of the press, while the support of free speech organisations like English PEN, help to inform the world of their plight.

Georgia Woodroffe is an undergraduate student. She avidly contributes to student media and holds editorial and journalistic positions on a number of publications

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