In an example of guilt by association and blood, a veteran Turkish journalist and his wife have been languishing behind bars for 440 days without even trial and conviction because his wife’s relative was alleged to have been involved in the controversial coup attempt in July 15, 2016.
Erdal Şen, 44 year-old managing editor of critical Meydan daily newspaper, was arrested on August 9, 2016 after he was reportedly tortured for days during pre-trial detention in İstanbul Police Department. His newspaper was raided several times by the anti-terror police units over the headlines questioning Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s deliberate reticence in calling out for the putschists to stand down and preventing the bloodshed.
Şen was allegedly accused of helping escape of alleged coup plotter Adil Öksüz who is married to his wife’s sister. Öksüz was presented to be an important civilian suspect of the coup attempt although he was released by the court after his brief detention the day after the coup bid. Şen told judges during the arraignment hearing that he was using his annual leave in his hometown Nazilli in the western province Aydın on the day of the failed coup attempt and stressed he had nothing to do with putschists, the judge ruled for his arrest.
The purported evidence the government claimed against the journalist was his visit to the house of his father-in-law in the town of Düzce in the west of İstanbul. Öksüz was believed to have spent his last night at that house before he vanished away. Witnesses told Öksüz left the house alone in the morning and never came back.
A recent report published by the Stockholm Center for Freedom on coup attempt on July 15, 2016 revealed how a hidden hand linked to Turkish Intelligence Organisation (MİT) played a key role in disappearance of Öksüz.
Öksüz was detained near a military base in Ankara the morning after the coup attempt. Surprisingly, he was released after brief detention and yet the prosecutor’s request for his arrest was denied. Interestingly enough, Öksüz was let go when mass detentions were happening right after July 15 and judges and prosecutors, of whom thousands were dismissed and arrested the next day, were not taking any risks by releasing suspects, and were trying to avoid attracting suspicion to themselves.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chairman of the main opposition party, CHP repeatedly implied that Öksüz was working for MİT. He made similar statements about Öksüz’s release. It is speculated that the most important part of Kılıçdaroğlu’s argument for a controlled coup is Öksüz and his connections, for which he points to MİT’s involvement with such questions as “Which government agency imported the GPS device Adil Öksüz had in his possession?. Moreover a former MİT Deputy Head of Anti-Terror Department Mehmet Eymür stated that the allegation that Öksüz was working for MİT was true.
Şen appeared in the court for the first time on April 20, 2017. The court ruled for his release pending trial after it was understood he had nothing to do with the coup attempt and he did not involve in the disappearance of Öksüz. The public prosecutor objected to his release and one day after he was set free, Şen was arrested again on similar farcical charges. Worse, two days later after his re-arrest, his wife Emine Şennur Şen who had been briefly detained following July 15, 2016, was arrested and placed in prison. The Şen couple has two children.
President Erdogan’s defamation of Şen played a significant role in the journalist’s imprisonment. Following Şen’s arrest, Erdoğan claimed that Şen who was once residing at the same apartment building with him long before Erdoğan moved to his presidential palace in 2014, is the one who helped Öksüz escape. Erdoğan openly branded the journalist as criminal without even waiting for the outcome of his trial. He described him as “lacking character” like other critical journalists he hate.
Since the government targeted all the relatives of Öksüz regardless of how close they are to him, family members and friends are fearful to talk to journalists and remain distant to disclosing any information about Şen’s case.
Şen started his journalism career as a local reporter for Zaman, one-time Turkey’s largest national daily, in his hometown Nazilli in 1994. Later he was appointed to work in İzmir, a regional bureau of the newspaper. His track record in covering local politics and municipal works helped him land a position at the headquarters of Zaman in İstanbul. He became an investigative journalist in İstanbul and specialized in researching the recent history of Turkish Republic.
Later, he was assigned to the Ankara bureau of Zaman where he would follow politics and cover the parliament. After years of reporting from then legislature, he was assigned to cover the office of then prime minister Erdoğan. He was successful in getting scoops from government insiders. He took a job in Habertürk daily owned by the rival media outlet Ciner Media Group in 2012. He became the news director in Ankara Bureau for Habertürk shorty before he was appointed to serve as Ankara representative of Ciner Media Group.
Şen was fired as a result of the government witch hunt that targeted critical journalists when Turkey’s biggest corruption allegations involving cabinet ministers and Erdoğan’s family at the end of 2013 revealed. He remained jobless for a while and plan to move to business sector and suspend his journalism career for a while. When a new daily called Meydan was launched, he got an offer to work as a managing editor. He moved to İstanbul and started working at Meydan until the paper was unlawfully shut down following the coup attempt.
Apart from his journalism career, Şen is known for his research studies on recent history especially on the era of Democrat Party who came to power in 1950 after the end of one party regime in Turkey. Democrat Party was overthrown by a military coup and then prime minister Adnan Menderes was executed by the military regime in 1960. He wrote 3 books on this subject and consulted a documentary project on Adnan Menderes for TRT 1, state owned TV channel.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 23, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 232 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 journalists who live 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.