Turkey: Freedom of opPRESSion?

Press Freedom
* Bu yazı geçen sene Monthly Review’in güncel politika portalı olan MRZine’de yayımlanmıştı.

On December 24th, 2010, a publishing house in Turkey was raided by the police. Without any prior warning, its office’s electricity was cut off, and special operations teams surrounded its building. Walls were rammed, doors were torn apart, and people working for Ozan Publishing were arrested and tortured.

Not satisfied with that, the police forces also confiscated about 3,000 books, thousands of journals, computers, external hard drives, and the archives of the publishing house. By then, a helicopter was flying over the building, to add an element of psychological warfare.

The Ozan Publishing employees are still under detention. But don’t look for their indictments by the public prosecutor. State terrorism needs no legal documents. A “decision of confidentiality” was issued by the court, which means that — under the current practice in Turkish law — they may stay in prison for a year or two without any indictment, without any information given to them or to their lawyers, let alone a fair trial.

Ozan Publishing was the place where a dissident journal called Yürüyüş [The March] was edited and laid out. With a circulation of 17,000 readers, this weekly socialist journal is still exposing the anti-democratic practices of the oligarchy in Turkey. In recent years, one of its newsboys was shot by the police (Ferhat Gerçek, 2007) and another was tortured to death (Engin Çeber, 2008).

A couple of months after the raid on Ozan Publishing, in March 2011 the homes of two journalists were raided by the police. After extensive searches of their homes, Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık were taken under custody. Then guess what happened. The court issued another “decision of confidentiality.” Şener and Şık, too, have been detained without any indictment or information, other than allegations about their involvement in the activities of an extremist right-wing terrorist organization called Ergenekon.

Strange. Although mainly writing for the mainstream bourgeois press, these two journalists are known for their love of democracy rather than fondness for right-wing extremism. What’s more, Şık, an important left-wing journalist with socialist leanings, had attracted public attention with his recent books — co-written with Ertuğrul Mavioğlu — that are critical of the Ergenekon organization as well as the government.

Soon it became clear why Şener and Şık were arrested: because Şık was about to publish a book, titled The Imam’s Army, in which he unveils how the Justice and Development Party (JDP) government of Erdoğan started to restructure the police forces in line with the intra-oligarchic contradictions inside Turkey. Everybody in the country became extremely curious about the book: Where is the draft that Şık was working on, before he was arrested?

This question was answered by the state terror again. A couple of weeks later, another publishing house, İthaki Publishing, was raided. The police and prosecutor found the draft of Şık’s book in İthaki Publishing and confiscated all the hard copies of it. Its soft copies were also deleted from the computers of the publishing house. Legal authorities claimed that those who kept the book on their computers could be arrested, using the magic word “terrorism.” It was the first time that a book was banned before it was published in Turkey.

First They Came for . . . .

When Ozan Publishing was raided by the police, the mainstream media were not outraged. Radikal, for which Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Ahmet Şık worked, is an important example of the bourgeois media’s attitude. After hundreds of policemen stormed the Ozan Publishing office and illegally confiscated its books and equipment, Radikal just wrote that “7 people were taken under custody after the police operation against the headquarters of a journal which has alleged ties with RPLP-F” (RPLP-F being an illegal Marxist-Leninist revolutionary organization in Turkey).

There was no proof of the alleged ties between Yürüyüş and RPLP-F, but who cares if a socialist journal was raided by the police? No condemnation of this anti-democratic police raid, not even a word about the violation of the freedom of expression and press, could be read in the pages of Radikal. Copying and pasting the anti-terror police officers’ claims onto their newspaper, Radikal journalists thought that their turn would never come.

A couple of months later, however, police forces visited the office of Ertuğrul Mavioğlu at Radikal to delete the remaining soft copies of The Imam’s Army (this practice of systematically deleting books may be called a digital Fahrenheit 451). It was only after this and other recent raids that the petit-bourgeois intellectuals of Turkey remembered the old quote of Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the Communists. . . .”

Today, nearly 70 journalists are inside the prisons of the state of Turkey. Most of them are imprisoned under terrorism allegations only, without any clear indictments. These pre-trial detentions can last years. Such prolonged pre-trial detentions have become a tool to punish those who oppose the government. You may be acquitted after a trial, but that won’t let you recover two or three years that you have lost in prison.

According to a recent report of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the number of journalists in Turkey’s prisons is double the respective numbers of imprisoned journalists in Iran and China.

Last but not least: the homes of two Boğaziçi University academics were raided by the police forces in recent weeks. One of the academics, Nejat Ağırnaslı, a sociologist and the translator of four books, was taken from his house in İstanbul to Diyarbakır, without being allowed to contact his lawyer and family. Even his academic syllabus was confiscated by the police, as an alleged proof of his ties with the Kurdish movement in Turkey. Although he was set free, his friends and colleagues knew what his detention meant. It was a warning for all the dissident academics to get their brains attuned to the state ideology.

This witch-hunt is likely to escalate, given the big May Day celebrations in which hundreds of thousands took part in Istanbul. As the revolutionary ferment as well as Kurdish democratic resistance grows, if the JDP government manages to consolidate its power after the June 12 elections, the democratic opposition will have to brace for a more brutal battle ahead.

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