Turkey ‘pitch black’ – What does the arrest of journalist Ahmet Şık tell us?

The arrest of Ahmet Şık, one of the boldest journalists left in action in Turkey was not that unexpected. He was targeted fo some time and had already informed the public in a TV interview with colleague Ayşenur Arslan at the main-opposition party affiliated Halk TV two weeks ago about the threats he had received.

He told her that he was given an ‘indirect’ warning through a source from the ruling AKP that he should stop his writing a new book which, he said, would be about the links between the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) and the Jihadists in Syria.

In other words, he was digging into the story which cost Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, two editors of daily Cumhuriyet, five year long prison sentences.

He gave also some details on a ‘secret witness’ in a new legal case underway, that the book that he had written five years ago about what he argued was the Gülenist infiltrations inside the state apparatus, titled ‘Imam’s Army’, which had led to his lengthy imprisonment in 2011, was ‘enforced to him by the Gülenists themselves’ and that ‘he was to be accused to be part of the Gülen Movement’. His colleague Arslan could nlot believe what he said in live television, asking him to repeat it.

Ahmet had also most recently a series of articles sharply questioning the real background of the coup attempt in July 15, published in daily Cumhuriyet. As a result of his investigative work, he shed light on the murky aspects of the coup, asking repetitiously, whether or not it was discreetly orchestrated or manipulated by the top echelons of the AKP. In a seminar at the Weatherhead Center of Harvard University more than a month ago, Ahmet also argued that the coup had failed because of lengthy negotiations between certain elements of the AKP and the top ranks of the army.

In short, in many aspects, he was doing what he was as a real journalist supposed to do. Under current, hellish circumstances in Turkey, with journalism in total eclipse, he was playing with fire.

Fearless and outspoken as he always has been, he did not mince his words either when 10 editors and journalists from Cumhuriyet nearly two months age were arrested. In a live interview some days after from Cumhuriyet headquarters, where a protest was organized, Ahmet described the AKP as ‘mafia’, saying that a ‘mafia gang under a party label had taken the entire Turkey hostage.’

Hearing these words, although he was calling the spade a spade, I felt shivers in my spine, and was truly concerned about him.

‘He will be taken in soon’ I thought.

He went on in full gear. Soon after the Russian Ambassador, Andrey Karlov, was assassinated in Ankara, Ahmet was quick to demolish the ungrounded disinformation in shackled Turkish media that the murderer was linked with what the Turkish authorities call ‘FETÖ’ (Fethullahist Terror Organisation), tweeting ferociously that all the frenzy in pro-government media was to divert attention from who really he was.

‘You the lackeys of power who try to prove that he was FETO etc… What will you make of the fact that he is a police officer,’ he tweeted, causing outrage amongst the AKP circles.

ahmet

The Anatolian Agency (AA), the mouthpiece of the AKP, rushed in this morning with details on why Ahmet was taken into police custody. He was, because of ‘denigrating the Repoublic and its organs’ and ‘spreading terror propaganda’ it reported.

The agency report added also the tweet I mentioned as part of the motives for arrest. But there were other tweets of his mentioned, such as these:

  • ‘Why are you outraged when I say that the murderer is the state itself?’
  • ‘The war in the southeastern region has existed, despite lulls, since 1984.’

And the one about the assassination of a prominent Kurdish lawyer in Diyarbakır.

  • ‘Tahir Elçi was not ‘preferred’ as a detainee; instead, he was murdered. You are a flock of assassins, you are the mafia!’

AA report indicated a dense dossier prepared for Ahmet. There was more, apparently, in it:

  • His interview – dated March 14, 2015 – with Cemil Bayık, a top figure of the PKK in Iraq.
  • His news analysis -dated July 8, 2015, titled ‘Ours is journalism and yours is treachery’.
  • His interview with the prosecutor of the case of MIT lorries – allegedly carrying weaponry to Jihadists – about the terror attack in Reyhanlı, near Syrian border.
  • His speech at a media freedom conference organized by the European Parliament in Istanbul in September 23.

If true, these details in the AA news report which indicate a premeditated intention to incarcerate Ahmet and silence him raise the concerns that he will be detained and send to prison, indefinitely.

Let us, nevertheless, keep up hopes, however dim they are, that he will be released.

The arrest of Ahmet marks another rupture point in the deepening process of oppression in Turkey.

After all, he is one of the journalists who suffered more than many others in critical positions; he was imprisoned in March 2011 for more than a year because of a book, then unpublished.

He was the victim of the gravely mishandled Ergenekon case, and the accusations focused since then on the Gulenist flanks of the police and judiciary for the ordeal. He became a symbol for those in other flanks of the power – nationalists, militarists, ultra-Kemalists and the AKP lackeys – as they widened the demonisation of Gülenists nationwide, calling for revenge, indiscriminately.

Yet, since he left prison, Ahmet put his grudge away about whoever the culprit was behind the major judicial oversights and continued to conduct his profession, as he has always done. He did not join the blood-thirsty flocks of the media who cried for revenge against an opaque enemy. Instead, he continued to do what he from the beginning aimed to do: to scrutinize the deep structures of power nested in the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy. He did not buy into the AKP-sponsored myth that the coup attempt was solely the Gülenists’ making. He was interested in what lies beneath and beyond.

More than anything, his plight illustrates the real threats to Turkish journalists, beyond illusions that many of his shallow colleagues find easy to fall into, that

a) the powerful conservative nature of the Turkish state has never been deactivated, on the contrary remained intact,

b) there has always been a ‘transitivity’ between various flanks within the security apparatus, no matter nationalist, Kemalist or Gülenist, on the common denominator of ‘defending the state’ against the citizenry,

c) it is utterly useful for Erdoğan and the AKP to feed the narrative on imaginary or real ‘enemies’ and keep also Turkish journalists polarized; at throats with each other.

Ahmet’s profiling himself as ‘purely journalist, and nothing but a journalist’ suggests that he is fully aware of what the ‘game’ is all about. Surely, the punitive measure now unfolding shows also that he is serving as a frontline model for how united Turkey’s journalists should be against a hostile power structure.

As we prepare to enter 2017, the presumption that worse is yet to come must be seen as realism. The path to full-scale authoritarian rule will demand more victims from those who seek the truth and those who dissent.

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This morning, meeting the press, Barış Yarkadaş, – a dedicated deputy of the main-opposition party, CHP – shared those concerns.

‘Look you all’ he said, with a grim voice.

‘It’s not only about Ahmet Şık. According to the information I have received, there are ongoing legal investigations against 650 journalists because of what they tweet. And, I am told, that they will all be rounded-up, at times in groups or one by one, as Turkey enters the process of the referendum (about the shift to a fully empowered presidency). Add to that the legal probes launched by the Interior Ministry about 10.000 citizens. This is a sheer threat to the nation, intimidation of the intellectuals and the society.’

 

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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