Friday

15th Dec 2017

Journalists on trial highlight Turkey crackdown

  • The arrests of Cumhuriyet’s staff were part of nationwide security operations that followed the coup attempt in July last year. (Photo: Reuters)

Dozens filled a cramped Istanbul courtroom on Monday (25 July) to watch journalists from Turkey’s leading opposition newspaper stand trial in a case that critics say is one of the most important episodes in the pro-Islamic Turkish government’s systematic campaign to silence dissent.

Seventeen journalists and administrative employees of the daily Cumhuriyet are accused of aiding and abetting terror organisations, which the defendants claimed their paper stringently criticised in the past.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Some of those on trial face up to 43 years in prison.

“The government says that the defendants are not on trial because of journalistic activities, yet all the evidence they put forth are news articles,” said Fikret Ilkiz, one of the attorneys representing the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

“This is one of the most typical cases that aim to intimidate journalistic opponents,” Ilkiz added.

The arrests of the newspaper’s staff were part of nationwide security operations that followed the coup attempt in July last year, and rounded up more than 50,000 people accused of having links with an Islamic movement headed by Fethullah Gulen, a muslim cleric in self-imposed exile in the US, according to the interior ministry's figures.

Gulen movement

The government, which once enjoyed a partially-veiled alliance with Gulen, labelled his movement (also called Feto) as the terror organisation behind the coup attempt against president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They now demand Gulen's extradition from the US.

Along with the arrests, the purging of more than 111,240 civil servants via 26 executive decrees in a year raised red flags among human rights groups and international organisations like the EU, which voiced concerns over the president’s growing autocratic tendencies and the arbitrary nature of government actions against dissidents.

"This coup attempt must be investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice but in fair justice and rule of law,” said Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament and the Greens/European Free Alliance group.

“However, since the purges, I see that this has nothing to do with rule of law … There is no independent investigation, but revenge on competitors and critiques.”

Some purges, critics claim, showcase the flimsy nature of the terror allegations and underline the government's agenda to eliminate opposition from all walks of life, even the state theatre.

“I was suspended from the Istanbul public theatre company by an executive decree, without any explanation,” said Kemal Kocaturk, an actor who returned to his position only to be permanently laid off soon after.

“The reason was clearly my critical stance against the government, publicly exposed in my Twitter feed, as there was no way they could associate me with bigots like Feto.”

Still, he considered himself more fortunate than others who were purged with executive decrees under an ongoing state of emergency - such as Funda Basaran, a communications professor at Ankara University.

Basaran was one of the 1,128 academics who signed a peace declaration in January 2016, calling for an unarmed solution to the conflict with Kurdish rebels that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.

The government took the call as open support for terrorism, instigated investigations into the signatories and, after the coup attempt, dismissed more than 380 within the group through several executive decrees.

“If we hadn’t signed the declaration, we’d still be subjected to executive decrees because we represent resistance and opposition within the universities,” said Basaran.

“The government wants to eliminate any opposition or institution that produces knowledge, encourages free thinking and supports reforms for an enlightened society.”

And they seem to have succeeded, she added.

“Everyone with a potential to be an opponent is destroyed with these executive decrees,” said the young academic. “We are not allowed to work anywhere or get passports to work outside Turkey, so we’re ‘living civil casualties’.”

Purged civil service

By July this year, purged civil servants represented 3.5 percent of the total public workforce, Numan Kurtulmus, the government spokesperson, stated early this month, adding that efforts were underway also to financially cripple the organisation.

So far, the state seized 966 companies with alleged links to Feto and handed over their 4,888 properties to the treasury, the spokesperson said – a move that, experts say, might irk foreign investors in Turkey.

In Germany, foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel hinted that strong economic ties might get hurt given the unpredictable nature of president Erdogan, Reuters reported last week.

"We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction … We can't continue as we have done," Gabriel reportedly said, implying mutual trade deals.

The German politician’s remarks came after six people, including Idil Eser, the Turkey director of Amnesty International and Peter Steudtner, a German emotional self-care trainer, were arrested last week on charges of aiding an armed terrorist organisation.

They were among a group of ten who were detained while holding a human rights-themed workshop in Buyukada, an island in Istanbul waters.

“Our business exchange office, which is an umbrella organisation for German businesses, has pointed out that they were uncertain about the independence of justice system in light of their future movements in Turkey,” said Arne Lietz, a German MEP, who spoke in Istanbul while attending the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists.

“Those who favour trade to be deepened with Turkey are in a position to reconsider their view if Erdogan steers the country towards authoritarianism as we see him do right now.”

The arrests caused international reactions at a time when Turkey has already been under the spotlight with at least 150 journalists in jail, according to several journalist rights’ groups.

President Erdogan, however, strongly opposes this figure and, in a rare interview to the BBC early this month, reiterated that there were only two journalists in jail unlike claimed.

For the wife of Ahmet Sik - a Cumhuriyet journalist who was arrested in 2011 after a critical book he wrote about Feto and now ironically charged with aiding and abetting Feto - the trial was a tough yet empowering experience.

“There are still people struggling for true journalism, democracy and rule of law,” said Yonca Sik, greeting friends during a brief break in the first hearing, which will last until Friday.

“After all we’re right and believe in ourselves so it’s the hope for a better future that we all represent.”

The human rights situation is expected to be on the agenda of a new meeting of the so-called EU-Turkey high level dialogue in Brussels on Tuesday, between Turkey's foreign and Europe ministers, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Omer Celik, and the EU's diplomacy chief, Federica Mogherini, and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Juncker: Death penalty will end Turkey's EU bid

Turkish president Erdogan said he would reinstate capital punishment, for people behind last year's failed military coup. But European Commission president Juncker says the move would end Turkey's bid to join the EU.

Turkey's accelerated drift from Europe

Turkey's path towards EU membership seems harder than ever in the past 54 years, after Erdogan, this week, threatened to "wave" goodbye to the bloc.

Turkish referendum pivotal for EU relations

The outcome of the upcoming Turkish referendum, which would grant president Erdogan sweeping new powers, is almost too close to call. The result will have a huge impact on EU-Turkey relations.

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Estonia completes two out of three priority digital bills
  2. EU countries are not 'tax havens', parliament says
  3. Tech firms' delays mean EU needs rules for online terror
  4. Slovak PM: Human rights are not a travel pass to EU
  5. British PM limps to EU capital after Brexit defeat
  6. US pleads for clarity on Brexit aviation 'black hole'
  7. Tusk migration note prompts institutional 'hysteria'
  8. Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  9. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  10. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'