Did Ayşe Yıldırım sense that her foresight would target her?
‘The passport you hold in your hand may have already been lost,’ my colleague had written in daily Cumhuriyet two weeks ago, warning everybody about the curbing of a fundamental constitutional right – to travel freely.
‘Let’s imagine you have been given a stipendium for a doctorate abroad’ she had gone on and explained:
‘You know you have an opportunity to improve your education and change your life. You get prepared, buy your ticket, bid farewell to your family and set on to the airport. All procedures in place. You join the queue for passport control, all the plans swirling in your head. You hand the passport to the police officer. He puts in your name etc in the computer, and a moment after says: ‘I am sorry, your passport has been cancelled. Coming over the first shock, you ask ‘but how, why?’… Then the officer adds, ‘I am sorry, we have to seize your passport.’
This practice has been a reality, an element helping to describe how Turkey since July 15 coup attempt turned into a ‘Republic of Fear’, and not, as ‘all the President Erdoğan’s men’ claim, ‘back to democracy’.
Citing her interviews with two opposition deputies, Yıldırım had given further examples on the sheer absurdity of passport confiscations, targeting exclusively dissidents in Turkey. She quoted Filiz Kerestecioğlu, a deputy of pro-Kurdish HDP party, telling that a scholar hands in her passport, and receives the answer: ‘I am sorry, your passport is registered lost.’ Bewildered, she says: ‘But I just gave it to you, and I did not report it lost.’ The officer says, ‘I have to confiscate this’ and, smiling, adds: ‘You can always apply for a new one.’
Yıldırım had concluded her article:
‘The AKP government, hiding behind the emergency rule, and violating the law, seizes the freedom of travel of people about whom there are legal inquiries and court cases. The law is suspended in Turkey, or, let’s put it this way: it is not a country where passports are lost, but the rule of law.’
My colleague would have been given a first hand experience – as to be proven how accurate she was in her description of the Kafkaesque problem – some days ago. Set for a conference in Brussels, Ayşe and her husband, Celal Başlangıç – a veteran expert reporter on Turkey’s bleeding Kurdish issue – were prevented from travel at Istanbul airport, both their passports confiscated, with no explanation given.
I am asked, at times, why the emphasis on stories from Turkey centering around journalists and academics. First, they because what happens to them in these dark times highlights how the free and independent minds of Turkey is seen and treated. It isunfortunate that we journalists are main subject of news, but there is no way to escape that.
They are the prime targets, because if you indulge in establishing autocratic rule, your priority is to cut the tongue, shut the eyes and ears of those who pursue the truth to tell it.
How Kafkaesque things turn out is filled with endless examples, and one of them is how the independent news site, Diken, had to experience. In my previous chronicle I had told the story of hacking into the mail account of Energy Minister of Turkey, Berat Albayrak, who is the son-in-law of Erdoğan. While the shackled part of the media self-censored the story, Diken published parts that were about the minister’s dealings with the Iraqi oil, through a company, Powertrans.
The story was banned in a matter of hours.
Then, Diken posted a story on the censorship. In a matter of hours, it was banned too.
The ‘de-facto martial law’ over media continues with full speed, limitless in absurdity.
In magnitude, too. After the latest wave of raids, which targeted the Kurdish and Alewi segment of the opposition media early this week, which ended with the shutting down of 19 TV and radio channels, there is practically no critical TV channel left, except Halk TV, which is close to the main opposition party, CHP. In addition, pro-Kurdish MedNuçe TV, broadcasting from Brussels, was plugged off from Eutelsat on Wednesday.
According to Ragıp Zarakolu, a prominent dissident living in exile in Scandinavia, this episode which took place before the eyes of the EU, was a result of what he claimed ‘pressures exerted by the AKP government to the European authorities.
The sense that the EU seems to agree that emergency rule in Turkey is a ‘normality’ as Erdoğan claims it is, helps only raise the fears of helplessness at home.
A veteran lawyer, Turgut Kazan, whose reputation as the fierce defender of justice goes back to five decades, declared most recently, that ‘there is not even a tiny fragment left of the rule of law in Turkey.’
‘What they (the AKP) want to do is to turn Turkey into a republic of fear, where all is banned except the speeches of the president.’
Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch, said:
“Fears that the government would make opportunistic use of the state of emergency to silence critics who have nothing to do with the July 15 coup attempt have come true. This week’s closure of TV and radio channels popular with Kurds, the Alevi religious minority, and supporters of opposition parties takes Turkey back to the old days and shows that the government wants no version of the news on television or radio other than its own.”
“İMC TV is the most prominent news channel among those closed down and has played an important role in covering news of the return to conflict in the southeast and the deterioration of human rights in Turkey more generally,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Closing down media is censorship and deprives the public access to information about critical developments in Turkey they have a right to know.”
In a new, severely critical report, Nils Muizniecks, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the ongoing seizures of companies, including those of the media, as a very grave pattern:
The Commissioner considers it particularly urgent to put an immediate stop to the closure, on the basis of a simple administrative decision or an executive order, of legal persons, such as newspapers, TV stations, associations, private companies, etc., and to the transfer of their assets to the Treasury. He considers that simplified rules allowing the transfer of assets to public funds during on-going judicial proceedings can also lead to irrevocable damages. The authorities must reverse the measures already taken in this respect when this is still possible. At any rate, the final dissolution or transfer of property should never occur without a proper judicial review with a final judgement, which must include the possibility of remedial action where necessary, including compensation.
Now only one critical TV channel – Halk TV – and less than a handful newspapers left, Erdoğan and his AKP are closer than ever to the completion of the process to shutting the lights of journalism entirely; inviting us, as it were, to its funeral.
Every raid, and seizure, mean, unemployment.
The most fresh information released by Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) is to say the least raising the alarm to red level: based on official data, TGS said, there are now 10.000 journalists without a job. Uğur Güç, TGS chairman, let us know, that under emergency rule about 3.000 lost their jobs.
There is more.
Independent news site T24 reported on Wednesday that a new decree calls for the media outlets to fire within five days any journalist charged on Anti-Terror Law or face a blockage of official advertisement.
So, jailing and firings are coupled by weakening to all the remnant independent media to bankruptcy. Indeed, that was the reason daily Cumhuriyet published an ‘outcry’ editorial, revealing how deep financial inspections an other types of bureaucratic harassment over it had become lately.
‘No matter what, we will not be forced to silence’, the management said.
Is the external world, in particular, bodies like the EU, aware that once all media cease to exist, there will be huge wall separating Turkey from the rest?
Like Ayşe Yıldırım, I had painfully predicted the upcoming calamity, in an article for the Guardian, titled ‘This is the end of journalism’, early March this year, concluding:
The time has come to admit that what’s left of journalism in Turkey is a wreck. While a core of bold journalists will go on challenging the shift to despotic rule, questions remain whether the EU will feel any shame at all for its apathy, and if our colleagues across the world will be able to do anything to prevent the funeral taking place.
Day before his passport was seized, my distinguished colleague, Celal Başlangıç, was in Istanbul’s Grand Courthouse, for his stand-in as ‘editor-in-chief’ for the pro-Kurdish newspaper, Özgür Gündem (shut down a month ago by the authorities) in an act of solidarity. He stood accused, like many of hşis bold colleagues, of ‘aiding and abetting terrorist organisation’.
Before he went into the courtroom, he was asked about the oppression and had a striking response:
‘All of these are the consequences of a succesful, not a failed, coup.’