Fatma Zibak, the Editor-in-Chief of the English news site turkishminute.com’ wrote to Der Tagesspiegel, one of the most important newspapers in Germany, about her experiences from the moment she left the country as an exiled journalist, her return to journalism in exile and the massacre of press freedom in Turkey. Here are the important sections from that article
Suddenly a terrorist
When I turned on my mobile phone while landing from Istanbul to Munich, I received a message from an old colleague. I was with my two-year-old son and it was a sunny day in August. My former editor-in-chief, who left Turkey and took refuge in Belgium, said, “Hey Fatma, do you want to start writing again? ” I had mixed feelings about the escape; ‘Sadness, fear, disappointment, anxiety and pain’ but I was also greatly relieved to have found a safe haven for my family. My husband had also left Turkey two days before me. I was no longer afraid that our house would be raided by the police in the middle of the night and we would be arrested in front of my little son.
Although I was sad, I was happy that I could escape from Turkey. The controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 provided Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with an excellent opportunity to crack down on journalists critical of him. Like any leader who wants to silence the opposition and establish an autocratic regime, Erdogan knew that he must first get rid of the independent media, which is known as the fourth force in democratic countries.
Even though I didn’t have a house or a permanent place to sleep in Germany at the time, my laptop was still with me and I told my old colleague that I liked to write things down. I have seen dozens of my former colleagues jailed for just because journalism and thousands of civil servants purged by controversial government decrees on trumped-up terror and coup charges. I realized that the only thing I could do for these people was to write about them and tell the world how Turkey, once seen as a model of democracy and coexistence, turned into a bossism regime. Writing was a kind of refuge for me. I am relieved to do something for the people who have been unlawfully imprisoned and subjected to serious human rights violations in my country.
Journalism in exile contains many opportunities, as well as difficulties. No matter how much a journalist tries to be independent when standing in one’s own country, tries to question official ideology and journalism, one can always have to respect borders and sometimes self-censor. However, as a journalist in exile, the official discourse on controversial issues questioning of one’s own country, the government overlooked for fear of upsetting local journalists and news writing about a great freedom.
According to the Organization Journalists Without Borders, 90 percent of the national media in Turkey is owned by pro-government businessmen and is moving along official lines. There are several media outlets that claim to be independent, but even they are wary of criticizing the Turkish government and Erdogan.
It was the Turkish journalists in exile who founded various media platforms which have been reporting extensively on widespread human rights violations in Turkey, torture and ill-treatment in prisons such as Bold News Media and turkishminute.com. Without these exiled journalists, the Turkish people and the international community would never have known about Turkish families trying to flee Turkey in rubber boats on the Meriç River or the Aegean Sea. They were unaware of the tragedy of Mustafa Kabakcıoğlu, the medal-winning police inspector. Kabakcıoğlu was found dead in a plastic chair in a prison quarantine cell in northern Turkey in August 2020.
They may also never have known about the tragic death of Halime Gülsu, a 34-year-old English teacher who was imprisoned for her links to the Gülen movement after the coup. The young woman died in a prison in southern Turkey in April 2018 due to the fact that the prison authorities did not provide her with basic medicines. They might also have never heard of the hundreds of children, or even newborns, who accompanied their mothers to prison during the post-coup purge. All of these victims have been charged with terrorism by the Turkish government for their alleged links to the Gulen movement, believed to be behind the failed coup. But the movement strongly denies that it had any role in the failed coup.
It is difficult to leave your native country and start a new life in a foreign country, but working as a journalist in exile gives me and many of my colleagues the opportunity to raise our voice against the wrong actions of an autocratic regime and gives us hope. Our work will one day help to promote democracy, the rule of law and media freedom in our own country.