The last Turkey theme the international media exploits is the issue of the “jailed journalists” and the “press freedom” or the “freedom of speech” in Turkey. After a few articles, one can smoothly grasp that the basic approach to these issues is sublimation. The shock effect to be produced with a news story on the imprisonment of a journalist has nothing to do with his innocence or the obstruction of that particular journalist’s disclosure of some hidden truth by a merciless powerful person, but simply with the fact that he is a journalist: How on earth a journalist can be imprisoned? Is he even subject to law like us ordinary mortals? Is he capable of wrongdoing? Journalist is the sublime Thing – as if journalism itself is not a perfect way to disguise oneself as a fearless truth seeker, as if this extremely comfortable position offered by the title of “journalist” is not being abused by all sorts of people who need it, as if members or sympathizers of terror groups also cannot be “journalist” and their praises of the groups they are affiliated with cannot be litigated, and so on. Sublimity is the most basic unconscious message of the articles about journalism or press freedom.
This determination, however, does not intend to downplay the fact that journalists across the world are exposed to ill-treatment or sometimes even murdered when they touch a nerve of those in power. Such atrocities, especially unsolved murders, were prevalent in Turkey too in the past. But that Turkey – where unsolved murders of not only journalists but also bureaucrats, politicians and business people were common; speaking Kurdish was a crime, or even identifying oneself as Kurd was forbidden; headscarved women were denied entry to schools and universities; non-Muslim properties were confiscated and their rights were not recognized and so on – is history. Hence the widespread “analysis” that wishes to see the recent developments in Turkish media (i.e. imprisonment of “journalists” and shutting down of media outlets) as an undifferentiated continuation of a more general trend against journalists is hastily made. If we can succeed in disillusioning ourselves about the (pseudo-)sublime image being drawn of journalism we might be able to perceive the case in the concreteness of its context.
There is one certain feature shared by these imprisoned journalists and closed media outlets: their affiliation with groups on Turkey’s terror list, not least FETO and the PKK. But one never sees in the international media outlets a concrete story of a journalist jailed because of his public support for a terror group. Let us give some of the most salient examples then and see what happened in other parts of the world in similar circumstances as well.
After its first failed attempt at overthrowing the AK Party government under the guise of corruption probes on 17 December 2013, FETO started a smear campaign to present the Turkish government as supporting terror organizations such as the Al-Qaeda and DAESH. When he was the editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar published a news story on and the pictures of the trucks belonging to the intelligence agency MIT, which were stopped by FETO-affiliated gendarmerie officials in 2014 as part of this smear campaign of FETO.
The trucks were carrying ammunition for Syrian rebels but the mission was a state secret – which meant that Dundar revealed a state secret of Turkey with the help of FETO. But he not only revealed a state secret but also contributed to FETO’s campaign against the government, claiming in a tweet that the trucks were heading for DAESH headquarters in Syria. Yet he was also the one who debunked himself in his court defense saying, “We don’t know where they [the trucks] were going to.” Dundar was arrested towards the end of 2015 and released from prison after 92 days. He fled to Germany a week before the July 15 coup attempt in 2016.
Opening investigations into journalists’ revelations of state secrets is not an uncommon practice in the West. The most well-known case is no doubt Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks. Since his release of nearly half a million secret documents of the US government, he had been chased by the US all over the world and ended up a de facto prisoner in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London after his asylum request was accepted by Ecuador. Assange fears being condemned to death penalty should he happen to be extradited to the US.
In 2016 Germany launched investigations against four journalists and an activist for allegedly leaking an illegal arms sale by a German company. In 2018 German authorities arrested two German nationals for allegedly revealing state secrets. A criminal probe was launched against a Finnish journalist accused of revealing state secrets of Finland. The police searched her home without a warrant and seized her laptop and other electronic devices during the search.
Ahmet Sik is another journalist who has been in prison since 30 December 2016. He is famous for his far left-leaning views. He once called the Turkish state “terrorist” on Twitter. He interviewed the two DHKP-C terrorists as they took hostage prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz. The interview was published by daily Cumhuriyet with the headline “This action is the method we were forced to choose.” He was charged with spreading terrorist propaganda.
Now imagine that two DAESH terrorists take a prosecutor hostage in New York or Paris or Berlin; and that a “journalist,” who was already known for his affinity for DAESH, interviews them and publishes the interview with the headline “This action is the method we were forced to choose.” What would happen to that journalist? Please keep in mind while thinking that in France an eight-year-old was questioned by the police on grounds of “defending terrorism” and a 16-year-old was taken into custody and indicted for the same accusation. Of course, these stories didn’t get any coverage in the international media.
FETO was a media empire in its own right. It had a multitude of media outlets, newspapers, TV channels and a myriad members disguised as journalists. Though it is completely forbidden in Turkey since the July 15, FETO media is still active abroad. The duty of these “journalists” was to propagandize for FETO to justify its actions, including its plots and schemes. For instance, FETO media played so great a role in sham Ergenekon trials, in which FETO-affiliated police fabricated evidence, the Ergenekon conspiracy couldn’t be imagined without the efforts of FETO media. Two victims of FETO media are notable in the Ergenekon conspiracy.
Ali Tatar, a military personnel implicated in the Ergenekon case, committed suicide after he was bullied by FETO-affiliated prosecutors and FETO media. He wrote in a note he left to his family, “You should know that I, who didn’t commit the least crime or sin, am putting an end to my life to rebel against this unlawfulness and become a light in this darkness.” But FETO media wasn’t done with pestering Tatar even after his suicide. It continued to write news stories on fabricated evidence to prove his so-called allegiance to DHKP-C.
The other well-known victim of FETO and its media in the Ergenekon conspiracy was Turkan Saylan. Her main occupation was medicine but she rose to fame mainly with her endeavors in the field of education, administrating a foundation called the Foundation for Supporting Modern Life (ÇYDD) which gave scholarship to students living or willing to live a modern/secular life. FETO media claimed that elements of a prostitution gang within the military was provided scholarship by ÇYDD. Meanwhile, Saylan was receiving treatment for her cancer and her condition was critical. But this didn’t prevent FETO-affiliated police from raiding Saylan’s apartment at five o’clock in the morning. She died 35 days after this raid.
The PKK also had its own media in Turkey and its international media is still active just like that of FETO. Of course, these so-called media institutions never admitted that they were mere PKK propagandists. Instead, they immediately alluded to the notion of “press freedom” when they were shut down. But the truth was that the closed media outlets had concrete relations with the PKK. For instance, daily newspaper Ozgur Gundem, one of the best known PKK mouthpieces, called dead PKK militants “our martyrs.” Another Ozgur Gundem headline read, “It is time to watch over Ocalan.” It might sound unbelievable but even PKK commanders such as Bese Hozat, Duran Kalkan and Mustafa Karasu wrote columns for the newspaper. This newspaper was being published for years – a fact which shows the unimaginably high level of tolerance in Turkey. But Turkey reached the end of rope especially after the PKK ruined the peace process.
Again, can you imagine that a pro-DAESH newspaper be published in the West; that, in addition, DAESH commanders write columns for it; and that they say the press freedom is violated when their propaganda outlets were shut down? Exactly the same happened in Turkey and the international media vehemently went on to defend the PKK media elements, casting the issue as a matter of press freedom. Asli Erdogan, who was a novelist besides her job as a member of the advisory board of Ozgur Gundem, was one of the favorite figures the international media advertised to trick the reader into believing that the press freedom in Turkey was really being trampled, that Asli Erdogan was being tried or Ozgur Gundem shut because they were critical of the government. Once again, none of these ‘details’ were mentioned in the articles and stories of the international media.