Imprisoned journalist Şirin Kabakçı: Raise your voices for jailed journalists in Turkey

Jailed Turkish journalist Şirin Kabakçı, who used to be the Konya bureau chief for the Zaman newspaper, Turkey’s most highly circulated newspaper before the Turkish government’s unlawful takeover and closure of it in 2016, stated in a letter he sent from prison that he wants and expects all people to raise their voices to protest the injustice, unlawfulness and lawlessness targeting all journalists including himself.

Kabakçı, who has been behind bars for 17 months, is one of the dozens of journalists who were arrested in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 because they used to work for media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Stating that the Konya Public Prosecutor’s Office has been trying to create a crime by presenting his legal and legitimate journalistic activities as illegal, veteran journalist Kabakçı said: “I have waited with hope for 17 months for the Turkish judiciary to correct the unlawfulness targeting me. I am now on the verge of losing my hope and faith in justice and the return of the rule of law.”

“Unfortunately, our judicial system is trying to obtain an illegitimate result by showing my legitimate activities as evidence of an alleged crime and thus tries to make me into a criminal,” Kabakçı said and added, “Moreover, this same judiciary has given negative responses to all the petitions of appeal that I’ve written about 50 times during my 17-month stay in prison.”

A translation of the full text of jailed Turkish journalist Şirin Kabakçı’s letter is as follows: 

“Esteemed reader,

I am one of the journalists who were arrested in an undemocratic process that reduced the ranking of Turkey to lower than that of Third World countries in freedom of the press indexes, and a Turkish journalist who is still being held in Konya E-Type Closed Prison.

I started my career as a journalist at the Zaman newspaper in 1990 and continued my career with the Cihan news agency between 1994 and 1997. I returned to Zaman in 1997 because journalism at a news agency was inadequate for me in terms of professional satisfaction. I worked as a journalist for my entire professional life until I had to leave my newspaper on May 1, 2016. I was qualified to receive national press card in 1994 and a permanent press card in 2012.

During my professional life I have only been a member of the Journalists Association of Turkey, the Sportswriters Association of Turkey and, in addition, the Konya Journalists Association during my assignment in Konya province between 2009 and 2016. Upon the closure of the Zaman daily’s provincial bureau in Konya at the beginning of 2016, I returned to İstanbul and started to work as a sports editor for the paper.

I continued to work in this department until May 1, 2016, despite the seizure of the Zaman Media Group by a group of trustees appointed by the Turkish government on March 4, 2016. My professional life as a journalist was officially and de facto ended on May 1, 2016, with the termination of my employment contract with Zaman after the decision of the trustees on the pretext of economic hardship.

On March 11, 2017, namely about one year after I left Zaman, I was detained after the Konya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office accused me of membership in an organization merely by presenting as evidence only my professional job, my journalistic activities and my news stories as the bureau chief of the Zaman daily in Konya prior to January 2015. Following a 14-day detention period, I was arrested by the Konya 2nd Criminal Magistrate on March 24, 2017 and put behind bars, with them saying, “Aren’t you the provincial bureau chief of the Zaman daily?” 

Esteemed reader,

The Konya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has accused me of being a “member of an organization” in an indictment showing the following duties and actions as evidence: Taking an active role in the Zaman daily; participating in overseas travel; contacting and meeting with the some suspects, most of whom were employees and executives of the newspaper; participating in protests against the illegal seizure of the Zaman daily by the government; and participating in gatherings with my friends.

However, each and every one of my works and actions that the prosecutor’s office has shown as evidence of my alleged “membership of an organization” consists only of the journalistic activities I was responsible for performing within the scope of my job. None of them has been described as a crime by the provisions of the Turkish Constitution, the Turkish Penal Code and the Turkish Press Law, neither today nor between 2009 and 2016. These are also legitimate and legal activities according to the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR].

The Konya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has tried to produce a crime and a criminal by showing my non-criminal professional activities as if they were evidence of a crime. By doing so the prosecutors have violated the basic principles of universal law and Turkish national law, which holds that “there is no crime without a law.”

As can easily be seen, with an indictment that was written in November 2017, I was charged with being a member of an illegal organization by violating the principle of the “non-retroactivity of the law” and the principle of “no crime and punishment without law” by showing the following of my activities as evidence: Working for the Zaman daily before 2015; participating in overseas travel as a journalist to cover news stories; contacting in my job as a journalist some people, none of whom were suspects in any crime; meeting with some people, none of whom were suspects in any crime, and participating in protests organized by the readership of the daily and other citizens against the illegal seizure of the Zaman daily by the government.

In the meantime, the prosecutor’s office has tailored the facts that were put in their indictment as evidence against me and thus they have been trying to generate a crime for me. In other words, they have conducted a perception operation by presenting my legal and legitimate activities as if they were illegal and illegitimate.

Let me explain: Prosecutors have put only the list of those people who were presented as suspects by them and shown my contacts, meetings and travels with them as evidence of the crime. Selectively drafting the list, the prosecutors have intentionally omitted my contacts and meetings with thousands of people from every walk of life during my job in Konya province between 2009 and 2016. However, since I was the Zaman daily’s provincial bureau chief in Konya, I had meetings and contacts with tens of thousands of people including governors, mayors, district governors, executives of public and private institutions, police directors and executives of nongovernmental organizations. By failing to collect evidence in my favor, the prosecutors’ office has neglected its duty and violated the law.

Esteemed reader,

The prosecutor’s office accuses me of membership in an illegal organization by showing my legal, legitimate and legal professional activities as evidence in its indictment, which will be shown as an example of the travesty of the judiciary in the country in the future. Unfortunately, our judicial system is trying to obtain an illegitimate result by showing my legitimate activities as evidence of an alleged crime and thus it tries to make me into a criminal. Moreover, this same judiciary has given negative responses to all the petitions of appeal that I’ve written about 50 times during my 17-month stay in prison.

Esteemed reader,

I have waited with hope for 17 months for the Turkish judiciary to correct this unlawfulness targeting me. I am now on the verge of losing my faith and hope in justice and the return of the rule of law. I have never written a letter to anyone or any professional organization because I had still hope for the future of Turkish justice. So this letter is my first in this regard.

Esteemed reader,

I want and expect you to raise your voices and protest this injustice, unlawfulness and lawlessness targeting all journalists who are still held in Turkish prisons due to their professional activities, including me, a father and a journalist, in a louder voice at every opportunity you find.

Best regards,

01.09.2018

Jailed journalist Şirin Kabakçı

Konya E-Type Prison, B.10″

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 236 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 20, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 168 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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