Two former chief editors in prison, while Turkish justice is mocked by a manifesto

What the leader of the Turkey’s main opposition said on Monday would be enough to lead to an investigation in any ‘minimally democratic’ country. It would lead to the resignation of any minister of justice; even the entire government.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader currently on March for Justice – on its 13th day, at the time of writing this blog – was saying, in a nutshell, that Turkey now is country ruled by total lawlessness.

In a brief interview, he said he was given information from some reliable sources that three prison cells were prepared in İstanbul’s Maltepe Prison for the CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu days before a court convicted and sentenced to 25 years on June 14, the tr724 news website has reported.

According to Kılıçdaroğlu this shows how deeply the government wields control over the Turkish judiciary.

“Just imagine,’ he said an went on:

”A person is being tried in court and no ruling has been issued, but three special prison cells are prepared for him in Maltepe Prison. Final preparations are made because it is known beforehand that the person will be convicted. It is known how long a prison sentence he will be given, and a place is readied for him.”

Berberoğlu, a friend and a colleague of mine, was first sentenced to lifetime impsronment by an İstanbul court on June 14 for ”leaking information on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks transporting weapons to jihadists in Syria.” The sentence, based on Berberoğlu’s public statement that he was the source who handed over the files to daily Cumhuriyet, was reduced to 25 years in prison by the judge. He was rapidly placed in a prison in Istanbul.

It also meant that the AKP government has imprisoned for the first time a deputy from the main opposition, CHP. There are 13 deputies from the pro-Kurdish HDP party jailed earlier. Berberoğlu case caused a fury and an otherwise utterly cautious CHP launched the March for Justice immediately after the ruling. Kılıçdaroğlu’s claims added yet another shock that Turkish justice system had collapsed.

“This situation is one of the most concrete examples showing the link between the government and the judiciary. This is one of the basic things that legitimizes our march. A decision which was expected to be made by a court was made by the executive body. The court just read it” added Kılıçdaroğlu.

On another perspective, it should be noted that these were the days two former chief editors were on the frontline, accused of all sorts of high crime acts – such as spying and incitement to coup etc – which once more showed that Turkey’s downward spiral to lawlessness gives priority to journalism as the prime victims.

Berberoğlu had served between 2009-2014 as the chief editor of nationalist-center newspaper, Hürriyet and the other journalist was Ahmet Altan, who was a founder in 2007 of liberal daily, Taraf, was its editor-in-chief until the end of 2012.

Days after Berberoğlu was placed in jail, Altan appeared for the first time in court since he was arrested in September 10, 2016, accused of ‘incitement of coup d’etat’ by way of ‘subliminal messages’ that, the prosecutor claimed, ‘he delivered during a TV show a night before the coup’ last July.

In his defence, Altan, known for his boldness and sharp language, delivered a devastating statement of the indictment – which also accused his brother, Prof Mehmet Altan, a senior female journalist, Nazlı Ilıcak, of the same ‘crime’ (!), asking for lifetime imprisonment.

Let us now return to the lawlessness and have a look at the ‘reasoning’ of the court ruling about Berberoğlu.

The issue at the core of his trial was Cumhuriyet’s publication of Turkish ‘intel lorries’ carrying weapons to jihadist groups in Syria.


But, it was not Cumhuriyet, contrary to widespread belief, which broke the story.

It was daily Aydınlık, a mouthpiece of ultra-nationalist Vatan Party, which had published the scoop two days after that the lorries were stopped for a search by Turkish gendarmerie – in January 21, 2015.

This story was followed up by a report, which included new details and pictures of what was found in the lorries, by Radikal daily (the reporter was soon after the publication, fired).

The irony is, of course, that, no matter how visibly the journalism is tried in the case of Cumhuriyet daily editors and Berberoğlu, the newspaper Aydinlik was not charged at all. (The newspaper has since the coup been a staunch supporter of Erdoğan and the massive purge and arrests, applauding the oppressive measures against the Kurds and Gülenists.)

I had questioned why Aydinlik, in the logic of what the charges were, was exempted from prosecution. My tweets found a great following, people joining to ask the same questions en masse.

The ‘reasoning’ of the court is so ridicolous that it is doomed to land on law school curriculums to teach how Turkish judiciary takes the lead, to stretch all the boundaries, to ‘reason ad absurdum’. It says, in a nutshell, that what Aydınlık had published was based on ‘guessing’ and ‘presumptions’, while Cumhuriyet had reported the story in a way ‘to shatter the world agenda’. It concluded that the core of the story was a ‘state secret’ that had to with national security, thus constituted a high crime.

Lawlessness has reached such levels and the judiciary has been hijacked by such a fierce Stalinst mindset that most of the indictments in Turkey these days are full of teachings in how ‘Turkish journalists should work and what is news and what is not’.

And the rulings are, without a shred of doubt, aimed at finishing all independent journalism that one can think of.

Let me finish this blog with some excerpts on Ahmet Altan’s defence statement on June 23, which amounts to a historic manifesto in the name of freedom against the tyranny:

”We are being judged and can be sentenced to life in a trial based on “sentiment”. What provoked the prosecutor’s “sentiment” are the things I said on Can-Erzincan TV during a talk show hosted by Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Altan. As you know, the prosecutor, twisting and turning to throw us in jail, first sent the police to arrest us because we had given “subliminal messages” on that show.

When the claim of “subliminal messaging” was ridiculed not only in Turkey but also around the world this word “subliminal” disappeared as suddenly as an illusionist’s ball. In its place there emerges a new claim: “You knew about the coup.” This claim becomes the latest actor in the absurdist play written by the prosecutor.

Can a prosecutor write an indictment based on his opinion and sentiment? Can people languish in jail because a prosecutor sensed something? Can “aggravated life sentence” be sought for people because of a prosecutor’s sentiment?

According to the law, the answer to all these questions is “No.” According to the law, there cannot be a court case that is without any criminal evidence and solely based on a prosecutor’s “sentiment.”

But this happens here. And we end up having to respond to this nonsense.”


”I am in jail not because I am a criminal. I am in jail because the criminals’ rule of law is in power. Such things happen. You get thrown in jail because you defend the law and because you are right. And the culprit can disguise himself as a prosecutor.

But no one should be afraid or alarmed. This will not last very long. The law will wake up one day.

Only those holding political power in their hands and their prosecutors don’t want the truth to be told. That is why they throw people like us in jail.

Let them, then, throw us in jail. They cannot alter the truth or change the future.”

Your prison matters not a whit to me. I will keep telling the truth. You should refrain from doing the sort of things that you are afraid that people will tell others about. Don’t kill innocent people, don’t be corrupt, don’t steal, and stop your injustice.

I have told the truth all my life. I am not going to give up on it now. If there is anyone out there who expects me to be afraid of imprisonment or that the idea of spending the few remaining years of my life in jail would terrify me, here is my answer to them:

Not in a million years. I am not the kind of man you can frighten.

I am not the kind of man who will act in cowardice and squander the many decades behind me for the sake of the few years ahead.”


Over 160 journalists of all stripes – leftists, Kurds, liberals, Kemalists, nationalists, conservatives – are in prison today.

What is the common feature of all these people with such different viewpoints?

That they all oppose the AKP.

This simple fact by itself demonstrates what kind of state freedom of expression and the rule of law are in this country today. The whole world sees this fact.

The prosecutor who claims that there is freedom of thought in Turkey has also included three of my columns in the indictment in order to accuse me with putschism. There is freedom of thought, but newspaper columns are deemed tantamount to putschism.

Don’t you just love this version of freedom of thought!

It is the shame of this country and its judiciary that we have been thrown in jail and put on trial merely for our thoughts and criticism.

I don’t trust the present day justice system – a system that arrests people without reason and tries them with untruthful indictments.

Therefore I don’t have any requests either. Your ruling will not have anything to do with me.

In one of his novels, John Fowles says that all the judges in the world are judged by their own decisions. So true.

All judges are judged by their own decisions.

You, too, will be judged by your own decisions.

However you want to be judged, whatever kind of verdict you would like for yourself, however you would like to be remembered, judge accordingly. Because you are the one who (at the end) will be judged.”





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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