No journalists or writers have been jailed in Turkey merely for expressing an opinion, say Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag or EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik. According to Murat Yetkin, regular columnist at Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet, if asked about the jailing of journalists in Turkey, this is their standard answer when abroad,.
There is some truth in this response he writes, because, mainly, they are charged with terrorism. Yetkin comments that this is standard practice in most countries that jail their journalists; they accuse them of terrorism, spying or treason.
According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association, most of the journalists and writers in Turkish jails (143) are accused of links with either the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the illegal network of Fethullah Gulen (or “FETO” as prosecutors call it). Gulen is a self-exile Islamist preacher living in the US, who is broadly believed to have masterminded Turkey’s failed coup attempt of 15th July, 2016.
Some of the jailed journalists are even accused of links to both organisations. Kadri Gursel, for example is the head of the Turkish branch of the International Press Institute (IPI) and has been arrested along with nine colleagues from the centre-left daily ‘Cumhuriyet’.
Murat concedes that journalists and writers are not above the law. If there is evidence of a crime, then they should be tried by independent courts. However, it is fair to demand that they not be kept under arrest before the trial takes place, unless there is compelling evidence against them.
Gursel, a centre-left intellectual has remained incarcerated for 126 days and there still has been no indictment by a prosecutor. Neither he nor his colleagues have made a court appearance yet. No one knows if there is any evidence that he is a member of the PKK or linked to the coup attempt. Other journalists who remain in jail without formal charge are: Nazli Ilicak (226) days, Sahin Alpay and Ali Bulac (225 days) and 170 days for novelist and columnist Ahmet Altan.
Generally speaking this presents a poor image for a country that should be trying to improve the quality of its democracy after defending it against a coup attempt, and that claims to remain committed to democratic European values.