I haven’t been actively performing journalism for a while. I write reports on human rights violations instead. Through the last report about the targeting and attacks of journalists in Turkey I was working on, I crossed paths with my profession and journalists again. It’s also an issue that I’m a victim of. It is such a victimization that made me live a refugee life away from my country, away from my family, in a desolate, cold, and foreign land where I am an alien to the language and culture for 6 years.
Hundreds of journalists and broadcasters are living similar lives in exile. Some of them are engaged in different jobs to earn their living because they think that harm will come to their relatives or because they cannot find opportunities. In a sense, some of them are content to watch the events in silence, exactly as the targeters want. Some of them continue to do journalism and struggle. However, the Erdoğan regime and its long arms continue to target these journalists and go even further to organize attacks regardless of which country they live in.
Since all autocratic governments want to shape societies through their own propaganda, they target journalists first. The regime is trying to take control of the media outlets, it is providing journalists with materials for hate speech and lynching campaigns, it is trying to silence them with threats, unlawful trials, arrests and attacks.
During the AKP government in power since 2002, Turkey has become one of the most notorious countries in the world for attacks on freedom of the press and expression, repression and arrests of journalists. Since 2016, In the research conducted by international journalist organizations; Reporters Without Borders (RSF), PEN International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey has been mentioned as the country that arrests and convicts the most journalists in the world.
Under the AKP government, at least 848 journalists were arrested between 2002 and 2022. Especially after the controversial coup attempt of July 15, 2016, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who shelved the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and the international human rights conventions he signed, had hundreds of journalists arrested within a few weeks. A total of 179 media organizations (53 newspapers, 34 TV, 37 radio stations, 20 magazines, 6 news agencies and 29 publishing houses) were closed during the State of Emergency Administration in 2016 on the grounds that they were “Gülen associated media”, “PKK media” and “leftist organizations media”. According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) 2016 press report; In 2016, the press cards of 780 journalists were canceled, and 839 journalists appeared before a judge in lawsuits filed because of their news. 189 journalists were verbally and physically attacked, and the number of unemployed journalists exceeded 10 thousand.
According to CPJ data, in 2016 alone, Turkey ranked first with 191 journalists in prison, followed by China with 38 journalists and Egypt with 25 journalists. As of 2022, according to the Reporters Without Borders (RFS) Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranked 149 out of 180 countries.
HOW DID TURKEY BECOME THE WORLD’S LARGEST JOURNALIST PRISON?
The main reason for the decline in independent journalistic activities and freedom of expression in Turkey is that democratic values have been shelved together with the Erdoğan regime and the judiciary has completely lost its independence. Another reason why Erdoğan has turned Turkey into the world’s largest prison for journalists is, of course, the major corruption crimes he is involved in. All the journalists who brought these crimes to light are either exiled, are being detained or are trying to be silenced by being subjected to violent acts and threats.
In addition, media bosses were also affected by the lawsuits filed by Erdoğan-controlled courts and had to withdraw from the media sector. On the other hand, many media organizations were closed down by the police force on unlawful grounds, their management was confiscated and they were handed over to government-controlled names. Thus, the Erdoğan government has managed to seize 90 percent of the media in Turkey, silence dissenting voices and prevent the public from knowing the facts. Not only journalists, but citizens with different views criticizing the government began to live in fear of being unjustly and unlawfully detained, tried, arrested and convicted.
Even the existence of intellectuals who are sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment just for their writings, swings like the sword of Damocles over the heads of journalists who want to do free journalism. The disregard of the freedom of the press and Expression, the fact that the justice mechanism is completely under the control of the government, pushed journalists who did not want to be declared ‘enemy’ or ‘traitor’ because of their news to practice self-censorship.
The Decriminalization law, which Erdoğan approved on October 18, 2022, makes ”spreading false information” a crime with prison sentences of one to three years. This law is also seen as an arrest measure against journalists targeted by Erdoğan.
ERDOĞAN’S HUNT FOR JOURNALISTS
Erdoğan is using the full authority of the state to ensure that the journalists he targets are punished in the most severe way. Erdoğan, who accused journalists of being “spies”, and “terrorists disguised as journalists”, did not let go of journalists who were imprisoned, whose assets were confiscated, and who were forced to continue their professions abroad because a decision was made to arrest them. With the red bulletins prepared through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Interpol was contacted and the names of the journalists targeted along with members of the armed terrorist organization were entered into the “Wanted for terrorism list”.
FOREIGN JOURNALISTS ARE ALSO TARGETED
According to the studies of press organizations, at least 65 journalists were subjected to attacks by law enforcement officers, politicians and civilian citizens while following the news or because of their news in 2022. In 2022, there were at least 174 cases involving journalists and press organizations. At least 263 journalists were tried in these cases. Some journalists appeared before the judge in multiple cases. At least 40 journalists were given imprisonment or fines in the cases. The journalists were sentenced to a total of at least 92 years, 11 months and 15 days in prison and a fine of at least ₺317 thousand 900. At least 24 journalists were acquitted. At least 33 journalists were arrested and at least 72 journalists were detained during the year.
Foreign journalists working in Turkey have also become unable to perform their duties due to targeting and lynching campaigns. Some of them were deported, while others were arrested. Erdoğan has also tried to treat some of the arrests as a bargaining tool. The release of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, whom Erdoğan targeted by calling a “spy” and a “terrorist” and arranged his arrest, as a result of political negotiations with the German government, had been the subject of discussion.
ERDOĞAN’S LONG ARM AND THE PURSUIT OF JOURNALISTS ABROAD
The targeted journalists are being followed by agency reporters, informants or intelligence agents acting on behalf of Erdoğan in the countries where they have taken refuge. In particular, the flagship Sabah newspaper of the ‘Pool media’, which is controlled by the Erdoğan family and businessmen who receive tenders thanks to Erdoğan, illegally tracks down wanted journalists, discloses their addresses and publishes their photos.
As a result, the targeting of journalists, their exposure to lynching campaigns, their unemployment and acts of violence also mean a blow to the democratic rights of the entire society. The absence of free and independent journalists makes the people prisoners of propagandist publications linked to power. As a result, the people become a society that is constantly deceived, unable to learn the facts, unable to defend its rights, and oppressed under pressure because it cannot find the strength to resist.
İşte hedef gösterilen bazı gazeteciler;
During his tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Cumhuriyet Newspaper, he published documents of weapons shipped by MIT trucks to organizations in northern Syria Journalist Can Dundar has suddenly become one of Erdoğan’s biggest enemies. Erdoğan made a harsh statement, saying, “I will not leave them alone.” and personally made the arrest of Dündar on his complaint. The High Criminal Court, whose delegation was formed from the names requested by the government, sentenced Dundar to 27 years and 6 months in prison for the crimes of “espionage” and “assistance to an armed terrorist organization”. Dündar, who left Turkey and lived in exile in Germany while he was being tried but it was not the end. Finally, Erdoğan ensured that Dündar’s name was included in the “Wanted for Terrorism list” announced to the entire world through the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In an article published in Die Zeit newspaper, Can Dündar summed up his experiences with the following words: “I had not killed anyone, bombed the city, robbed a bank. My whole “crime” was that I documented that Erdoğan was secretly sending weapons to the jihadists in Syria through the intelligence agency. The news, which brought the award of many international press organizations, first resulted in a 27.5-year prison sentence in Turkey, then solitary confinement for a while, a failed armed attack, then the confiscation of all my assets, and finally exile. But apparently, this was not enough for Erdoğan. When the news came out, in order to keep his “I will make him pay heavily for this,” promise, he was now raising the “terrorist” charge, promising 500 thousand pounds (25 thousand euros) to those who would help me get caught.”
Journalist Bülent Keneş, was serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the English-language newspaper Today’s Zaman. After broadcasting opposition to Erdoğan, he was arrested and placed in Silivri Prison on October 10, 2015, initially on the grounds of insulting President Erdoğan, citing his twitter posts. Keneş, who was released after a while, was among the journalists whose arrest decisions were issued after the 2016 coup attempt. Having taken refuge in Sweden, Keneş founded a human rights organization called SCF (Stockholm Center for Freedom) with his journalist friends, which prepares reports on human rights violations in Turkey.
While not pausing in his harsh criticism of the AKP government, he continued to be one of the names targeted by Erdoğan. Among the conditions put forward by Erdoğan, under which Sweden had to get approval for Nato membership, was the return of some names to Turkey. Answering journalists’ questions together with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at a press conference broadcast live, Erdoğan’s personally pronouncing the name of Bülent Keneş and requesting his extradition caused a shock effect in the press world. While putting Keneş’s name forward for NATO negotiations, Erdoğan did not hesitate to say that he wanted to go to the elections to be held in May 2023 with a strong hand. Fortunately, the Swedish supreme court also decided to reject the request, as there were no criminal elements that would require Kenes to be extradited.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a journalist living in exile in Sweden, was also on the target board because he was actively doing English-language journalism about Turkey and the Erdoğan regime through the Nordic Monitor website. In addition, they are targeted in the list of “Wanted” and “Deserters” regularly published through the Anadolu Agency, the official agency of the state in Turkey.
Bozkurt was attacked by three unidentified people in front of his home in Stockholm. Bozkurt, who made a press statement after the incident, said that the Nordic Monitor will continue to tell the world about the lawlessness in Turkey more decisively. Bozkurt stated that he had been a target of Erdoğan and his regime for many years, stating that Erdoğan’s aide had openly said on a national channel that he wanted him to be killed.
Journalist Cevheri Güven was targeted for his covers and publications about Erdoğan during his time as Editor-in-chief of Nokta Magazine. Before the elections, using heavy expressions to the Nokta Magazine employees because of the graphic cover showing him taking a selfie in front of the martyr’s funeral, Erdoğan said; “Those who made this cover are dishonorable, despicable. and they will pay the price.” After that, some issues of the magazine were collected and banned. Soon after, Cevheri Güven and the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, Murat Çapan, were arrested. Güven had to leave Turkey when he was released after 2 months of detention and continues to work as a journalist with his Youtube broadcasts from Germany. Çapan has been detained in Turkey for 6 years.
Güven made statements at the Turkey Tribunal in Geneva investigating rights violations in Turkey, stating that he had been summoned and warned by the police authorities in Germany, while stating that an assassination squad had been established for journalists living in Europe, and that his name was also on the list of 21 people. Güven, who explained that he was constantly targeted by the media controlled by the Turkish government, said; “I was constantly branded as a terrorist during this process. I have been associated with many different terrorist organizations. Various moves have been made to undermine the credibility of my news before the public by constantly putting pressure on it. Of course, we feel the pressure of the long arms of the Erdoğan regime in Europe as well.” Güven’s photos and personal information were published by the Erdoğan-controlled Sabah Newspaper in front of his house in Hassen.
Journalist Ahmet Dönmez is also one of the independent journalists who reports on Erdoğan, AKP government ministers and their mafia connections. Dönmez was attacked by two or more suspects who followed him after picking up his 6-year-old daughter from school. He suffered permanent brain hemorrhage, lost consciousness and remained in intensive care for a while, and came back from death. Ahmet Dönmez explained that mafia groups protected by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had threatened him with death and that he had complained to the Swedish authorities before this attack.
Journalist Metin Cihan came to the public agenda when he obtained information that 11-year-old Rabia Naz Vatan had died as a result of being hit by a car driven by an AKP member and revealed that the incident was recorded as a suicide in the court minutes and the incident was tried to be covered up. Cihan, who was later a target of the AKP due to government corruption reports, stated that he was forced to go abroad due to being targeted, being investigated and receiving threats. Cihan shared on social media, “I feel like there is a mafia in front of me, not the state. Whatever the state is anyway, but I’m afraid of the mafia.” said he.
Journalist Erk Acarer, known for its opposition broadcasting aimed at the AKP government and one of the journalists living in exile in Germany. Erk Acarer, who also works as a columnist for Birgün Newspaper, was attacked with “fists and knives” in the courtyard of his apartment building where he lives in Berlin.
Bülent Ceyhan, who works as a journalist in Turkey, was forced to leave Turkey due to the arrest warrants against him and sought asylum in Sweden. During his asylum process, he was awarded the “Written News of the Year Award” at the Metin Göktepe Journalism Awards Competition. However, due to pressure on the jury, his award was withdrawn. Ceyhan, who has left active journalism after that, prepares reports on human rights violations in Turkey for human rights organizations.