How Turkey’s independent press died under Erdogan’s watch

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SHAFAQNA – Long held as a democratic model for the Middle East, Turkey is fast becoming ground zero for all things totalitarian, and neo-colonial, under the leadership of its ambitious President: Recep Erdogan. A despot in democratic clothing, Turkey’s strongman has played by America’s exceptional handbook, arguing national security to better deny, and reject its people’s civil liberties. Determined to impose himself as a neo-Ottoman monarch, Erdogan has behaved a wannabe imperial power, a rogue state among other rogue states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar …

Empowered by EU capitals on account Turkey stands a tentative ally against the axis of resistance against Zionism, and imperialism, Erdogan has been set free on an unsuspected Turkish society; a grand devourer of freedoms and democracy.

If 2011 marked the rising of an Islamic consciousness across the Arab world, 2016 could soon be remembered as the year Turkey lost its democratic shirt to despotism – a devolution Western powers have yet to address in their desire to rationalize political paradoxes. For all their self-proclaimed declaration of faith to Democracy, Western powers have invested a great of time and money in cultivating autocratic friendships.

In early March 2016, President Erdogan targeted one of Turkey’s last-standing independent media organization: Zaman. The newspaper which until then had made a point at demanding political accountability by challenging officials and their narrative, was violently broken into for daring “challenge” President Erdogan’s judgement in running the affairs of the state.

Erdogan’s ire was mainly against Zaman newspaper’s editor in chief, whose editorial license against the ruling party, and President Erdogan in particular, incensed Ankara to the degree where it sought his removal, and subsequent imprisonment. With riot police running in and out the premises, in full view of the public, Zaman newspaper was made an example out of – a scapegoat so that other would-be critics would abstain from attempting from than a whisper. Over the span of one press cycle Zaman newspaper went from being the opposition to a pliable journalistic tool of the regime.  Under the shadow of the bayonets, Turkey’s most prominent media organization gave out under duress – no more than another state echo chamber.

Of the matter not a word would be written; instead, Zaman reported on President Erdogan’s visit to a bridge under construction. Under new management Zaman was clearly told to toe the line, or face further legal misery.

In reaction to Zaman’s seizure, editors of the English-language version of the newspaper said in a statement: “We are going through the darkest and gloomiest days in terms of freedom of the press, which is a major benchmark for democracy and the rule of law. Intellectuals, businesspeople, celebrities, civil society organizations, media organizations and journalists are being silenced via threats and blackmail. We have entered the last phase in terms of pressure on those who persistently remain independent in their publications.”

Indeed, Turkey’s crusade against the independent press has run as a dangerous theme over the past year – a trend which has only been accelerated by the world’ silence, and Western powers’ growing dependence on Ankara to do its bidding and carry its policies in the region.

Turkey’s press violations and freedom of expression track record is abysmal. In the past two years, Turkey’s justice ministry has opened as many as 1,845 criminal cases against citizens accused of insulting the president. In one case, a doctor lost his job for comparing Erdogan to the creature Gollum in “Lord of the Rings.” Teens have been charged for ripping down Erdogan posters, or posting unwelcome Facebook comments. Journalists of course are particular targets: Two from another opposition publication, Cumhuriyet, face serious charges for reporting on alleged arms smuggling to Syria.

Back in February 2015 the Telegraph reported on Turkey’s already pronounced into the darkness of autocracy when it wrote: “Turkish authorities including government agencies have stepped up their crackdown on freedom of expression online in 2014, with figures from Twitter showing the problem getting worse. According to the latest transparency report from the website for the last six months of 2014, Turkey was the country that made the most content removal requests.”

Although grossly under-reported Turkey’s despotization campaign can be pinpointed to the summer of 2013 during the Gezi protests and a breakdown in relations between exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen and Erdogan. From their very public spat Turkey would learn to do with less liberties.

While Turkey has clearly departed from previous claims its leadership values such principles as self-governance, civil liberties and freedom of expression, the NATO ally is actually following in the footsteps of a long despotic tradition

According to the 2015 statistics of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), 28 lawsuits were opened by applicants against member states regarding their violations of freedom of expression. Ten of those applications (complaints) were made against Turkey’s violations of freedom of expression. Turkey ranked first in that category.

Turkish law professor Ayse Isil Karakas, both a judge and elected Deputy Head of the ECHR, said that among all member states, Turkey has ranked number one in the field of violations of free speech.

“619 lawsuits of freedom of expression were brought at the ECHR between 1959 and 2015,” she said. ” 258 of them — almost half of them — came from Turkey and most were convicted as violations of freedom of expression.”

A wannabe EU member-state Turkey offers a rather troubling insight into Western powers’ politicking.

By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna

 

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