Life in prison for telling the truth?
I am trying to imagine if President Obama had filed suit against every journalist who had criticized him since he took office in 2009. While I am generally as critical of the media, both mainstream and social, as I am of politicians, I still fiercely protect their rights to print anything as long as it is true. Even those who publish falsehoods in this country are not given particularly harsh sentences, relatively speaking. Consider the most recent event whereby the National Enquirer last month intimated that Ted Cruz’ father was actually in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of JFK in 1963. To the best of my knowledge, the National Enquirer has not even been fined, let alone shut down, though in my opinion they should be. In Turkey, since Erdogan became president two years ago, over 2,000 suits have been filed against journalists for one reason and another, but mostly for simply being critical of Erdogan.
In March, court order in hand, Turkish officials took over the offices of the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman, in Istanbul. A protest quickly ensued as word spread, and supporters of the newspaper and of free press in general gathered, chanting “Free press cannot be silenced”, and sporting banners reading “Do not touch my newspaper.” Pretty tame, actually, considering what would happen in the U.S. under similar circumstances (in other words, nobody was shot). Ultimately, Turkish police used teargas and water cannons on the crowd and forced their way into the building. The newspaper was immediately brought under government authority and the editor-in-chief, Abdulhamit Bilici, was fired soon after. With the government at the helm, Erdogan’s picture was featured on the front page and … surprise … no more reporting critical of Erdogan or the government. This week, the announcement was made that the paper will be shut down altogether.
Yet another casualty in Erdogan’s war against journalists is Can Dündar who is facing a possible life sentence for a documentary he produced on government corruption and associated espionage charges. Can you imagine? He was arrested in 2015 and was released in February 2016, 92 days later. Dündar is one of the most well-known journalists in Turkey, having worked for both newspapers and television news, including CNN Turk. In addition, he has written a number (27 by my count) of books. His documentary included a segment accusing the Turkish government of providing arms to Syria, and now he and fellow journalist, Erdem Gül, face enhanced charges of spying and aiding a terrorist organization (Daesh). The trial, after being postponed twice, was scheduled for 22 April 2016. Not surprisingly, I am not readily able to find the results, nor any news stories since the morning of the trial. The trial was closed to the public.
Some time ago I noted that it appeared Erdogan is power-hungry and may be leading the nation toward a dictatorship. Can there still be any doubt? The latest is that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the key player in the EU-Turkey deal to help stem the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe, will step down from his position at the request of Erdogan. Even though by law, the Prime Minister has more power than the President in Turkey, Davutoglu always appeared subservient to Erdogan. However, in recent months, Davutoglu had been seen as trying to assert himself more as Prime Minister and perhaps put some limits on Erdogan’s power. So, he was given a choice: leave, or go. One analyst sees this as a sign that “signals that Mr. Erdogan’s transformation from democrat to autocrat is nearly complete.”
Erdogan has long expressed a desire to bring Turkey into the fold of the EU, but his actions in the last six months have likely doomed such a consideration. More importantly for the immediate future is the fate of the EU-Turkey immigrant deal. Terms of the deal included visa-free travel throughout the EU for Turkish citizens. The agreement was made primarily between Davutoglu and Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and it appears that Erdogan was derisive about the deal. Perhaps he was merely upset that somebody besides himself was given credit for it, or perhaps his reason has a darker side and in anticipation of his quest for power, he does not want citizens of Turkey to be able to travel easily throughout the continent. Erdogan has thus far effectively asserted control over the AKP, parliament, the army, the judiciary and, to a large extent, the media. Now it will be up to him to select a new Prime Minister. It is said that his son-in-law, current energy minister Berat Albayrak, is a likely candidate. If so, that should complete the ring of power with Erdogan effectively in control of nearly everything, and will also likely be the demise of the EU-Turkey refugee deal.
What next? If there are still independent journalists in Turkey, I am sure there will not be for much longer. Even ordinary citizens who write against Erdogan within the boundaries of Turkey, will likely be quickly quietened. If the EU-Turkey deal falls through, I cannot, or rather wish not to, imagine how much worse the situation will become for those refugees fleeing the horror and bloodbath that is now Syria. I write a lot about the problems we have here in the U.S., but then when I write a piece like this, I realize our problems, at least for today, are as grains of sand on the global beach.