Ahead of the second anniversary of the seizure of the Zaman Media Group by a government led by autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the former bureau chief of the Zaman daily in Brussels, Selçuk Gültaşlı has highlighted the double standards of the international press and human rights organizations as concerns journalists jailed in Turkey.
Gültaşlı visited European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) headquarters and delivered a briefing on “the desperate situation of Zaman journalists and media workers in jail” in Turkey. Welcoming the positive mobilization of international watchdog organizations for well-known journalists such as Can Dündar, Deniz Yücel and the Altan brothers, Gültaşlı has been advocating for the same efforts for his less known Zaman colleagues in jail.
According to an article published on the EFJ website, Gültaşlı stated: “Don’t get me wrong! When I read for example the latest resolution at the European Parliament on the human rights situation in Turkey, I’m very pleased to see a reference to Cumhuriyet journalists, to Deniz Yücel or to [the] Altan brothers, Nazlı Ilıcak, etc. It is also good that many NGOs are campaigning on these names to attract public attention. But despite the fact that 124 journalists (out of 150) imprisoned are former Zaman colleagues or Kurdish journalists, it’s really sad to see they are barely mentioned and thus being discriminated [against] for their alleged affiliation. It is as if press freedom or the rule of law [is] only valid for European journalists, liberal or [secularist] journalists in trouble in Turkey. If you are labelled as a Gülenist journalist because you happened to work for [the] Zaman newspaper or other Gülen-affiliated media, nobody will raise his voice to defend your rights.”
Underlining the fact that some of these “forgotten” journalists are currently in solitary confinement, Gültaşlı gave the following cases as examples:
“Mustafa Ünal, a journalist with 28 years of experience, was Zaman’s Ankara Bureau Chief when the newspaper was confiscated on March 4, 2016. He was a columnist for 20 years and accompanied the Turkish President and the Prime minister at their many domestic and foreign trips. Until he was arrested, he had no legal case at courts for a story or an article he had penned. In the wake of the coup attempt of July 15, 2016 he was arrested on July 30, 2016. He is still in prison. In his indictment, the articles he had written are shown as evidence for being a member of a terrorist organization.
“Like many of his colleagues, Ünal has applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). However, ECtHR while finding the applications of Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç’s admissible has refused Ünal’s application. Both Alpay and Bulaç are being tried for exactly the same indictment and court case. (Both Bulaç and Alpay are former Zaman writers, we are very happy that at least their applications are accepted). ECtHR’s letter that Ünal’s application has been rejected was conveyed on Feb 1, 2018.
“The reasoning for the refusal is the non-consumption of domestic legal remedies. However, it is exactly the same situation for the other journalists whose applications have been accepted. ECtHR’s verdict sets a dangerous precedent as it gives Turkish government the message that it could do whatever it wants with the journalists who have been Gülen sympathizers. ‘Gülen sympathizers’ journalists have not been able to get any result from the Constitutional Court of Turkey and the fate of their applications to the ECtHR is still unknown.
“Fevzi Yazıcı, the art director of Zaman, is still kept in solitary confinement as he refused to sign a fabricated document. He was among the six journalists (not three) being sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment on Feb. 16, 2018.
“Hidayet Karaca, the general manager and editor in chief of STV, is in solitary confinement for the last three months. Although he had legal right to attend his father’s funeral, he was not given authorization. He still does not have a lawyer.
“Two female judicial correspondent working previously for Zaman, Büşra Erdal and Ayşenur Parıldak, have been jailed on similar fabricated charges. They were released by a court and immediately jailed by another before being able to leave the prison compound.”
On March 4, 2016, five months before the military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Zaman daily, Turkey’s highest circulating newspaper, was seized by Turkish authorities on charges of affiliation with the Gülen movement. Many journalists and media workers were quickly sacked without any compensation.
Despite being fully managed by government-appointed trustees since March 2016, the newspaper was banned by decree number 668 on July 27, 2016 for its ties to the Gülen movement, branded as an “illegal armed terrorist organization” in the wake of the coup. This time, journalists not only lost their jobs, they were jailed, their friends and family were left without resources, their passports were confiscated and their business and social contacts totally disappeared.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of February 22, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison, 205 were under arrest pending trial, while only 35 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 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 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.
Fethullah 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 other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 12, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”