Yuksel Durgut – International Journalists Association e.V. (IJA) During the visit of Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Turkey, the name working in press who earns his living on journalism was brought up. Exiled journalist Bülent Keneş, whom Turkey’s party-aligned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the attention and demanded his extradition, has become the subject of negotiations on Sweden’s NATO membership.
On the one hand, Sweden, which is in the 3rd place in the list of the most democratic countries in the world, and on the other hand, Turkey, which is ruled by the one-man regime and is one of the last on the list of democratic countries in 2022. What brings these two countries against each other is the fact that “Freedom of the Press and Expression”, which is the basic condition of being a democratic country and being at the top of the list, is a matter of negotiation.
Erdoğan targeted Bülent Keneş by saying, “It is important for us that the terrorist named Bülent Keneş is deported to Turkey. We want Sweden to be more sensitive.”. The journalist graduated from the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences of Boğaziçi University. He started his professional journalism career at Zaman newspaper in 1994. After working in various units of the newspaper, he worked as the Foreign News Director in October 1995 and as the News Director in 1999.
It is a well-known fact that freedom of the press and expression form the basis of a correct administration and democracy in countries. A free press is important for the survival of a democracy. It is also in a fundamental position for the maintenance of the principles of the rule of law. However, it is absolutely unacceptable for Erdogan to ask for the extradition to Turkey of Bülent Keneş, who has been declared a “terrorist” and is living a life of exile just because of the articles he has written.
Keneş was the former editor-in-chief of the English-language newspaper Today’s Zaman. The newspaper was confiscated and terrorized by Erdoğan for allegedly helping to plan the coup attempt against him in 2016. Many journalists, including Bülent Keneş’s name, were targeted by the Turkish intelligence-controlled Sabah newspaper, and their private lives were shared, even to their home addresses, before the election.
Stating that they believe that Turkey is destroying their image in the western world, Keneş says that he is only relaying what is happening in Turkey. In an interview with Swedish SVT, Keneş said, “He is a despot and I am a journalist. I expect everything from a despot who doesn’t care about freedom of expression.
Everything is expected from a despot who does not care about freedom of expression, human rights, and does not care about the rights and duties of journalists. I wasn’t surprised, but I didn’t expect to hear my name during this one special visit.” Kenes states: “I am not worried about the future at all because I have always believed and believe in the rule of law in Sweden. I hope the Swedish government will not disappoint me on this issue. I came to Sweden for the continuation of freedom of expression and the right to life. This issue means everything in this country, and so does respect for human rights and freedom. That’s why I trust that Swedish law will protect me.”
Bülent Keneş was continuing his academic studies on journalism while serving as the Editorial Coordinator of the Turkish Daily News, Anadolu Agency’s New York bureau chief, the chief editor of Bugün Newspaper, founding editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman newspaper published in English.
Bülent Keneş, who has also been teaching courses in international relations, political science and communication at Fatih University since 2010, was detained by the Anti-Terrorism Branch Directorate teams on October 10, 2015, following a complaint by Erdoğan’s lawyers on the grounds that he insulted him in his tweets.
Bülent Keneş, the Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Zaman Newspaper, who was arrested and put in Silivri Prison for defamation in his Twitter messages, was released after 4 days upon the objection of his lawyers.
Investigations were also opened against Bülent Keneş, the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Zaman, which was closed by a Decree Law (KHK) issued during the State of Emergency declared after July 15. Keneş, who had an arrest warrant issued against him, was also the target of pro-government media in Sweden, where he lived in exile.
Karl Lindblom Dalén, news director of the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter, and Isabelle Eriksson, a reporter for the online newspaper Bulletin, say that Turkish President Erdoğan chose journalist Bülent Keneş to accept Sweden into NATO, and he is not worried because he trusts Sweden’s laws.
Bitte Hammargren, a MENA & Turkey analyst and journalist, Svenska Dagbladet’s former correspondent in Turkey, comments on Keneş’s negotiability via Twitter as follows: “Of course, it is vital that Sweden continues to demonstrate that the principles of the rule of law apply, that is, double guilt applies to extradition. But when President Erdoğan finds an interlocutor willing to make more concessions than a memorandum of understanding requires, he will continue to push it to the end. As expected, President Erdoğan wants more concessions. Erdoğan is using the agreement with Sweden and Finland before the election and will continue so.”
Reporters Without Borders announced that Turkey ranks 151st among 180 countries for press freedom, below Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Ahead of the elections to be held next year, Erdoğan will continue his attempts to silence the media, and Turkey’s ranking will probably fall even lower.
If Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had stated that freedom of the press could not be compromised in front of the President of Turkey, whom he respects with the flag of the two countries he wears on his collar, he would not be at the center of criticism in his own country. Swedish journalist and writer Kurdo Baksi, like many of his colleagues, expresses the following in his message of support: “I have known Bülent for many years. Bülent is just a good journalist. He is definitely not a terrorist.”
As in the case of Keneş, regimes cannot make “Journalists” a matter of negotiation in order to keep power in their hands, neither in Turkey nor in any country in the world.