Turkey loses any independent reporting with post-coup regulations

Turkey loses any independent reporting with post-coup regulations
Photo: Reuters
Ninety-eight journalists have so far been arrested under Turkey’s State of Emergency declared on July 20, 2016, five days after the failed coup attempt of July 15. Seventy-six of those journalists were journalists who worked or wrote columns for newspapers and media outlets affiliated with the Fethullah Gülen Movement, which the Turkish government alleges is behind the coup.
The remaining 22 were from Kurdish media outlets; who have been subject to a heavy-handed treatmentby the country’s prosecutorial authorities since the State of Emergency.
State of Emergency rule, normally due to end in mid-October, was extended for another 90 days, and the government’s indiscriminate rage now seems to be directed at opposition and Kurdish news media. Most recent arrests of journalists took place not as part of the coup probe, but outside of it. For example, on 18 October, Sadık Demir, the owner of the Kurdish Radio Karacadağ and two former employees of the station, Mizgin Çay and Salih Erbekler, were arrested on charges of “terrorism propaganda” based on a program aired by the station.
Media outlets shut down
Nearly 2500 journalists have lost their jobs, 660 press cards were canceled, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines, 18 TV stations, 23 radio stations, 29 publishing houses and three news agencies have been shut down since the declaration of State of Emergency. Again, the most recent closures targeted Kurdish, left-wing and independent media. 13 of the 18 TV stations shut down were closed under cabinet decree on 30 September, nearly two months after the closure of the five stations allegedly associated with the coup. They included Kurdish, Alevi and independent radio stations. A television station for children was among them.
Those arrested outside the coup probe include Aslı Erdoğan, a celebrated writer and Necmiye Alpay, a foremost linguist. As part of the coup probe, well-known novelist Ahmet Altan was arrested along with his brother Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics. The two brothers were accused of having supported the coup, based on remarks they made on a television program, where they warned about the approaching dangers of authoritarianism. The court ruling for the  arrest of Mehmet Altan reasoned that “he must have known about the coup in the making given his educational background, social standing and economic standing,” confirming complete disregard of due diligence in gathering of evidence in the judicial proceedings. The court expressed a similar opinion for Ahmet Altan. The panel of judges argued that the two men, given their social standing, must have known the coup was coming, although the Turkish president, the undersecretary of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), the intelligence units of the National Police Department, or the Gendarmerie Command or the General Staff had not discover any warnings of the coup plot, at least by these institutions’ own accounts.
Those who have been arrested as part of the coup are also not given access to books or writing instruments; nor are they allowed to see their lawyers for more than an hour a week. Visits from friends and others are completely banned. They are also not allowed to receive or send letters.
More than 30,000 arrested in coup probe
In another recent development, Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency (BİK) regulations were changed to punish press outlets which refuse to fire journalists who are being tried under the country’s Counter Terrorism Law (TMK). According to the changes, official advertising to any news outlet that employs a journalist who is being tried on terrorism related charges will be cut off, unless the employee is fired from the media organization within five days after the start of legal action against the employee.
Censorship of the media is also widespread. For example, news stories reporting on a recent Gmail hack of Turkey’s Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, were blocked by the country’s Telecommunications Agency (TİB). Currenlty, 114,582 websites are blockedin Turkey. Internet blackouts and throttling are also common, especially after incidents such as terrorist attacks.
Certainly, Turkey’s post-coup crackdown doesn’t start or end with the press. As part of the wider coup investigation, more than 32,000 people have been arrested. According to government figures, over 70,000 people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation. 22,305 of those released were let go on probation, meaning they can’t travel abroad and they are required to check in with their local police station at regular intervals. More than 100,000 officials, including members of the judiciary, the police force and even school teachers, have been suspended or dismissed. At least 74,000 passports have been canceled under Cabinet Decrees, including passports held by the family members of those suspected of involvement in the coup – now a legal measure under the Turkey’s State of Emergency rule.
Free elections?
Recent developments indicate that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will likely opt for holding a referendum to introduce a presidential system in Turkey in April next year, followed by early general elections in the summer.
In the current situation in Turkey, holding a free and fair election is an impossibility. Statements and speeches from opposition leaders, particularly those from People’s Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş, are never reported in the mainstream media, most of which are directly owned by businessmen who have specifically bought media outlets to appease and remain in the good graces of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
With most critical media outlets shut down, voters will not have access to crucial information about any of the issues in a country where poverty, corruption and a military campaign against Kurds are ending lives. Credit rating agencies have downgraded Turkey’s rating to junk; although the government has dismissed these moves as a conspiracy against the country; defiantly maintaining that the economy is in good shape. The country about to be dragged into war in Iraq – not to mention the fallout from Turkish involvement in Syria –  with Turkey insisting that it be part of the operation against the Islamic State in Mosul despite Iraq’s irritation. There are other issues that will likely have longer-term effects, such as the government’s campaign to effectively finish off Turkey’s best schools, and violence against women remains rampant. Environmental issues, such as water safety, increasingly under threat by the government’s mega construction projects, also pose long-term risks to the nation’s future.
Turkey, now at a crossroads of regime change and on the brink of war has no media left to report on any of the issues. Any election that Turkey holds in the near future will not be free or fair; Turkey’s State of Emergency practices have effectively eliminated that possibility.
This article first appeared on the Media Observatory website in October 2016. 

Rule of Law in Turkey Becomes Rule by Decree and Denunciation

After the failed coup attempt of July 15, Turkey increasingly looks like a dystopian state; suspects have already died in prison and most of the country’s independent media, including a Kurdish-language TV network for children, have been shut down.

The government’s initial response to the coup attempt was to declare a State of Emergency on July 20, which authorities said would help with the investigation. The government has accused a movement led by the religious cleric Fethullah Gülen to be behind the failed coup. However, many now voice concerns that the State of Emergency has turned into a witch-hunt against all critics of the country’s powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

More than 32,000 people have been arrested under State of Emergency according to government statistics. Over 70,000 people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation. According to data from the pro-government Sabah daily, 22,305 of those released were let go on probation, meaning they can’t travel abroad and they are required to check in with their local police station at regular intervals. More than 100,000 officials, including members of the judiciary, the police force and even school teachers, have been suspended or dismissed, and now there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to Turkey’s post-coup purge.

Most of the arrests allegedly take place in the absence of evidence against the suspects. For example, Mehmet Altan, a professor who was arrested for appearing on a television program affiliated with the Gülen movement, was told by a court that “he must have known about the coup given his level of education and social status” in the official ruling explaining the rationale for his arrest.

At least 74,000 passports have been cancelled under Cabinet Decrees, including those held by the family members of those suspected of involvement in the coup; now legal under Turkey’s State of Emergency rule. Some family suspects have also claimed that their families were held as hostages being told openly by police that they will be released if the real suspect surrenders.

126 journalists and writers are currently in prison; excluding those who are being kept in detention centers awaiting an arraignment to decide their fate. Under State of Emergency, the initial detention period before a suspect is released or charged was extended to 30 days from 48 hours. No contact with lawyers is allowed in the first five days of this period, raising concern about maltreatment and torture. There have been reports of people being kept up to 28 days in detention centers without being charged.

These concerns have already some sound basis: A teacher who was arrested in the coup probe was found dead in his cell; with authorities blaming the death on a heart attack. A prosecutor arrested in the coup probe was found to have killed himself, although his family says he would never end his own life as a devout Muslim. Allegations of maltreatment and torture are rampant, and head of the Prisons Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission Mehmet Metiner’s recent statement that “Military law is in place for the coup plotters; I will blow their heads off,” offers no indication that the rest of the world can rest assured about humane treatment of those under arrest.

State of Emergency powers are increasingly used to silence any opposition. State of Emergency regulations are used extensively outside the coup probe to persecute Kurds, leftists and Alevis; a religious minority in Turkey. In early October, the government shut down 24 television and radio stations that represented left-wing, Kurdish or Alevi segments. Many writers, including celebrated author Aslı Erdoğan, from the Kurdish press have been imprisoned since the start of State of Emergency rule.

Many websites have also been shut down under Turkey’s State of Emergency. Most recently, Turkish authorities blocked access to Google Drive and similar services where hundreds of thousands of people store their data, in response to a scandal in which the gmail account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Energy Minister and also President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, was hacked.

Anti-government protests are also not allowed. The government has issued a ban on any commemorative activity to be organized in the capitat to remember the victims of the Oct. 10, 2015 suicide bombing by the Islamic State that left 100 people dead on the first anniversary of the massacre. Twenty-nine protesters were detained in Bursa province on Oct. 9 in an event organized to commemorate the victims of that attack.

Dozens of teachers who belong to the left-wing union Eğitim-Sen have also been dismissed. Seven of them were put under arrest in early October on terror-related charges.

With the State of Emergency being prolonged for at least another three months and state officials adamantly stating that more arrests will be made in the following months, the darkest days for the opposition in the authoritarian country might yet still be ahead.

Evin Baris Altintas

11 Oct 2016