News & Politics

Erdogan Goes Full Autocrat, Press Freedom Extinct in Turkey

(AP Photo)

We have been covering the purges in Turkey for a while now at PJ Media, but it seems that other media have finally started to pay attention as well. See this report from The Guardian, a British newspaper:

Turkey has intensified its crackdown on the media since last month’s attempted coup, with rights groups decrying a wave of decrees that have turned the country into the world leader in locking up journalists.

During Turkey’s current three-month state of emergency the government has the authority to rule by decree and has ordered the closure of 102 media outlets, including 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels, three news agencies, 23 radio stations, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses.

Arrest warrants have been issued for more than 100 journalists, and, according to the independent journalism platform P24, 48 have been arrested since the investigation into the alleged coup plotters began.

Since the media crackdown began, 2,308 media workers and journalists have been fired. Hundreds of other journalists have had their government-issued press accreditations taken away, and many other journalists (the precise amount is unknown) have been informed that their passports have been revoked, making it impossible for them to travel abroad to either do their job or escape before they too are jailed.

Erol Önderoğlu, who is Turkey’s representative for Reporters Without Borders, explains that the government is using the state of emergency to shut down as many newspapers, TV channels and websites as possible. This already happened before the purge, but it’s worse than ever now because the government no longer needs a court order:

One of the biggest problems in Turkey was the close relationship between the judiciary and the government, which was detrimental to press freedom. But the government can now bypass the courts altogether, leading to an even more arbitrary situation. Turkey now again leads the ranks of the worst countries for press freedom.

Ahmet Şık is one of the most famous journalists in Turkey. Several years ago, Şık was actually jailed for a year because he wrote a book about the infiltration of Gülenists (supporters of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen) in Turkey’s police forces. Like many other secularists, this made him a target for supporters of Gülen and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who were, back then, still allies.

Although nobody would blame Şık if he kept his mouth shut now that his enemies are the target of a major purge, he has the courage to stand by his convictions:

I don’t defend the Gülen movement, but I do defend my profession. What is done to the Gülen media today was done to me yesterday, and tomorrow it will be done to you. This is why we always have to defend freedom of expression, and stand by our principles.

He is right, of course. What many foreign observers don’t realize is that Gülen supporters aren’t exactly popular among Kemalists (secularists who believe in the ideals and ideas propagated by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk). The reason is that Gülenists have, for years, used their power to oppress, get rid of and even jail Kemalists.

Many Kemalists now say that Gülenists had it coming.

There’s some truth to that statement, but as Şık explains, principles matter. This is not about defending Gülen or his Islamist movement; it’s about defending values like freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Certainly, there are quite a lot of Gülenist journalists who abused their power and influence in the past. But that doesn’t make it right for us to sit back and watch while they, in turn, are being silenced in what’s clearly a major crackdown.

Another point is this: Kemalists could only suffer in previous years because Gülenists were in cahoots with President Erdoğan and his AK Parti. By remaining silent now, Kemalists are actually rewarding the increasingly authoritarian president — their political opponent.

Somehow, I don’t believe that will end well.

As Şık says:

Press freedom is in a worse state than ever before. I would sum it up like this: the coup was prevented, but the junta came to power.

Michael van der Galien is PJ Media’s correspondent in Turkey. Follow him on Twitter.